College Football

Army Beats Navy 17-11 on Game’s Final Two Plays


Navy quarterback Xavier Arline hands off to running back Daba Fofana who gained four yards on the play from scrimmage in the 2023 Army-Navy Game. It was the only time Fofana touched the ball in the game. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

FOXBOROUGH, Mass., – The U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy football teams faced each other for the 124th time when they kicked off at 3:12 p.m. ET on Saturday in front of an announced crowd of 65,878 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Army dominated most of the matchup, but the game came down to the last two plays as the Black Knights downed the Midshipmen 17-11.

Army won the coin toss and elected to defer to the second half. Navy opened the series on their own 25 yard line but went three-and-out in their first series. Punter Riley Riethman booted a 47-yard punt, giving the Black Knights the ball on their own 26-yard line.

Army rushed five times for 16 yards and passed twice, once incomplete and the other a 10-yard reception by wide receiver Casey Reynolds and converted a first down. Army head coach Jeff Monken decided to go for it on 4th-and-2 on their own 47 yard line. Quarterback Bryson Daily threw an incomplete pass intended for wide receiver Noah Short who was at the Navy 35-yard line. They turned it over on downs with 9:24 remaining in the first quarter.

Navy ran three consecutive quarterback keepers with Xavier Arline for a total of 11 yards bringing the ball to the Navy 36. Running back Brandon Chatman rushed for 12 yards to the Army 24. Arline then passed to wide receiver Cody Howard but was intercepted by Army safety Max DiDomenico at the five-yard line. DiDomenico returned the interception 30 yards to the Army 35-yard line with 6:32 left in the first.

Army Black Knights safety Max DiDomenico grabs a first quarter interception as Navy receiver Cody Howard falls backwards to the ground in the first quarter of Saturday’s Army-Navy Game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The Black Knights ran nine times for 54 yards and passed once, a five-yard completion to wide receiver Ay’Juan Marshall, and found themselves first-and-goal on the four-yard line when the quarter ended. When play resumed, running back Jakobi Buchanan rushed up the middle for no gain. This was followed by a four-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tyson Riley in the corner of the end zone. After Quinn Maretzki’s extra point, Army led 7-0 with 14:19 remaining in the half.

Navy began their next drive at their own 25-yard line. Fullback Alex Tecza rushed up the middle for nine-yards. Left guard Ben Purvis was called for a false start penalty, moving the ball back five yards to 3rd-and-6 from their own 29. Tecza ran up the middle for one yard, forcing Riethman to punt on 4th-and-5.

Neither team could move the chains in their next few possessions.

With 5:21 remaining until the halftime break, Tai Lavatai replaced Xavier Arline at the quarterback position for Navy. The possession began at the Navy 18-yard line. Tecza rushed three times for eleven yards in this possession, while Lavatai rushed seven times on QB Keepers for 35 yards. The Navy drive ended when Lavatai’s rush on 4th-and-2 from the Army 37-yard line fell short giving the ball back to the Black Knights with 1:05 remaining in the half.

Daily rushed twice for 11 yards, and connected on passes to Reynolds and Marshall, as well as a nine-yard completion to receiver Tobi Olawole. The seven play 34-yard drive ended with a 47-yard Maretzki field goal to give the Black Knights the 10-0 halftime lead.
Army received the second half kickoff, a 61-yard boot from Navy kicker Evan Warren to the Army four-yard line. It was returned by Markel Johnson for one yard. Johnson fumbled on the five-yard line but made the recovery.

Between Daily running quarterback keepers and running back Kanye Udoh rushing up the middle, the Black Knights ran seven plays for 34 rushing yards, but the drive ended with a Cooper Allen punt.

Navy went three-and-out on their next possession.

Navy Midshipman receiver Jayden Umbarger is about to be pushed out of bounds by Army Black Knights cornerback Bo Nicolas-Paul during Saturday’s Army-Navy game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, N.Y. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The Black Knights started at their own 15-yard line with 8:53 left in the third quarter. They ran 10 consecutive running plays which consumed six minutes off the clock and advanced 47 yards, but the Navy defense got stubborn when cornerback Mbiti Williams Jr. broke up a Daily pass intended for Reynolds to bring up fourth down. Allen lofted a 27-yard punt with good hang time, which allowed Marshall to down it at the Navy 5-yard line with 2:53 left in the third quarter.

It was now time for Navy to go on a sustained drive as they decided to open up their passing game. Lavatai passed left to wide receiver Nathan Kent for nine yards to get to the Navy 21 yard line. Lavatai then ran up the middle on a QB keeper for 25 yards to bring the ball out near midfield. Receptions by Tecza and wide receiver Jayden Umbarger brought the ball into Army territory when the quarter ended.

Lavatai continued to mix pass plays with QB keepers when the fourth quarter began, including a 13-yard reception by Umbarger. A 37-yard field goal by kicker Nathan Kirkwood gave the Midshipmen their first points of the game. Army led 10-3 with 12:45 remaining on the clock.

After both teams went three-and-out and had to punt, Army went three-and-out for a second consecutive series as the Midshipmen defense held strong.

Navy began their next possession on their own 30-yard line with 7:09 left in regulation. Lavatai completed a pass to slot back Eli Heidenreich for 20 yards to bring the ball to midfield. Tecza ran up the middle for a four yard gain. Lavatai scrambled up the middle for an additional three yards. But just as it looked like the Midshipmen found a bit of rhythm on offense, left guard Ben Purvis got hit with a false start penalty, his second of the game.

On the very next play, starting at 3rd-and-8 from the Army 48-yard line, Lavatai was strip-sacked by inside linebacker Kalib Fortner for an eight-yard loss. Lavatai fumbled at the 40-yard line, which was scooped up by Fortner at the 44-yard line and returned for a touchdown. Maretzki’s extra point was good and Army held a 17-3 lead over the Midshipmen with 4:49 remaining in regulation.

Navy Midshipmen wide receiver Jayden Umbarger scores a fourth quarter touchdown to pull Army within a possession of the Black Knights during Saturday’s Army-Navy Game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. . Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Instead of folding, the Midshipmen came out with a higher sense of urgency on their next possession knowing they were fighting both the Black Knights and the clock.

Lavatai ran up the middle for seven yard, then threw incomplete intended for Chatman. It appeared for a moment that Navy’s hopes for a comeback were dashed when Lavatai was sacked for a four-yard loss on 3rd-and-three. However, he connected with Chatman for a 13-yard completion which kept the drive alive.

With a fresh set of downs, Lavatai set out to pick apart the Black Knight defense. He hit Umberger on three consecutive pass plays for 15, 14 and 14 yards respectively. The second 14-yard reception was in the middle of the end zone for a touchdown. Navy failed to make the two-point conversion and the game was now 17-9 with 2:47 left on the clock.

Warren attempted an onside kick which Army recovered. It was 1st-and-10 with the ball on the Navy 45-yard line when tight end Josh Lingenfelter was hit with a false start penalty which pushed the ball to midfield. Then right tackle Connor Finucane moved for his second false start of the game.

It was now 1st-and-20. Udoh rushed up the middle for seven yards, and then for two more on the next play. Lavatai ran a QB keeper rush up the middle for eight yards, but it wasn’t enough for a first down. Army’s Cooper Allen booted an 11-yard punt to the Navy 27-yard line.

The Army Black Knight defense held tough, keeping the Navy Midshipmen from getting into the end zone on the next-to-last play of the 2023 Army-Navy Game in Foxborough, Mass. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The Midshipmen had one last opportunity to tie the game. They had to march 73 yards downfield in 99 seconds.

Lavatai ran up the middle for nine yards. He then hit Heidenreich on a deep pass for 28 yards. After an incomplete pass intended for Chatman, he went back to Heidenreich for a nine-yard completion. On third-and-1 from the Army 27, Lavatai completed a 10-yard pass to Umbarger and an 11-yarder to Chatman. It was now 1st-and-goal from the six-yard line and Lavatai threw two incomplete passes. He then hit Tecza on a short pass for four yards.

Navy had used all of its timeouts. The clock was ticking down. It was fourth-and-goal from the two-yard line and an eight-point deficit. Lavatai hiked the ball and ran forward for a QB keeper. The Black Knight defenders had prepared themselves for a final goal line stand. The sounds of the collisions of the shoulder pads could be heard throughout Gillette Stadium. When the officials removed everybody from the pile it was determined that Lavatai was downed by contact a few inches short of the goal line. Navy turned the ball over on downs with three seconds remaining.

The Black Knights didn’t have enough room for a traditional “victory” formation, so quarterback Bryson Daily took the snap, danced around the back of the end zone, and stepped out of bounds after seeing zeros left on the clock. Navy linebacker Luke Pirris was credited with the safety, which made the final score 17-11 in favor of the Black Knights.

In keeping with tradition, the players gather near the students in the stands tsddso sing their school’s anthem. The losing school goes first, so singing second is always a good thing when it comes to the Army-Navy game. For the second year in a row, Army sang second.

Army Black Knights head coach Jeff Monken yells from the sidelines during Saturday’s Army-Navy Game at Foxborough, MA. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

“Man, one of our coaches said on the headset, welcome to the Army-Navy game. He’s right. It’s always like that,” said Black Knights head coach Jeff Monken. “We had a 14-point lead, and one second to go, they’re standing there knocking on the door with a chance to tie the game up. Unreal. But proud of our team. What a great win. Both teams just fought like crazy.”

Army quarterback Bryson Daily went 7-for-14 passing with 54 yards, one touchdown and was sacked once. Navy quarterback Tai Lavatai was 16-for-26 with 170 yards, one touchdown, and was sacked three times including one fumble that led to a Black Knight touchdown.

“Obviously, a tough night. Your heart breaks for your team, especially your seniors. I really wanted this for them more than anything,” said Midshipmen head coach Brian Newberry. “Those guys have been through a lot in the last four years and they’re an extremely resilient group. I’m really proud of the way they led, I’m proud the way they stayed the course, I’m proud of the way that they accepted me as their head coach and bought into what we were doing and the way that they all led in their own way. Those guys deserved to win today and, unfortunately, we couldn’t get it for them. We knew the game was going to be a dog fight, it always is. Can’t turn the ball over twice in a game like this and expect to win.”

In rushing, Army’s Kanye Udoh carried 13 times for 88 yards, while Daily rushed 27 times for 84 yards. Ay’Juan Marshall carried twice for 19 yards total. Army finished the day with 47 rushes for 205 yards for a 4.4 yards/carry average.

Army Black Knights linebacker Kalib Fortner strips the ball from Navy quarterback Tai Lavatai during the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Army-Navy Game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Fortner recovered the ball and ran 44 yards for a touchdown. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

“They had been working their tail off all season, all four years for some of those guys, and they were making big holes,” said Daily. “They were confident in the game plan, as well, and it’s pretty cool seeing a freshman center lead the way behind guys like Connor Finucane who played a lot of ball, Jackson Filipowicz, and they were moving them back and allowing Kanye and myself and all the other running backs to get some big runs. To be able to run for over 200 on Navy is no small feat because they have a great run defense. It’s really cool that we ran the ball so successfully today.”

Tai Lavitai led Navy with 19 rushes for 74 yards. Alex Tecza carried nine times for 34 yards; Brandon Chatman carried once for 12 yards; and Xavier Arline rushed five times for six yards. Overall, Navy rushed 35 times for 130 yards.

“Even though we were down 10-0 at halftime the confidence never left the offense. We knew we could move the ball if we stopped shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Lavitai. “The message going in was trusting each other and believe we can come back from this. We tried spreading the ball out more and that was something to seemed to work better. They were in man coverage a lot and sitting back further so we looked to get the ball to play makers on the edge and that helped in the second half.”

Casey Reynolds led the way for the Black Knights with three receptions for 32 yards. Ay’Juan Marshall carried twice for nine-yards. Army completed seven passes for 54 yards and one touchdown.

““They had a lot of motions and a lot of different formations being in the shotgun. They do a lot more variety of things from the gun and with their personnel. It’s definitely a different aspect facing them,” said Navy linebacker Will Harbour.

Navy fared much better with 16 receptions for 179 yards and one touchdown. Jayden Umbarger pulled down six receptions for 75 yards and one touchdown to lead the Midshipmen. Eli Heidenreich grabbed four receptions for 56 yards, while Brandon Chatman held on to two for 24 yards.

“That quarterback was definitely throwing it around a little bit, and they were getting first downs when they needed on those last two drives,” said Army linebacker Leo Lowin. “But yeah, we were kind of definitely playing a little more pass coverage at that point, knew what they were trying to get at, but they did a good job executing, so we just tried to slow them down as best as possible, and we knew when we got in the red zone that you can’t throw it as far, obviously, so we kind of hold up a little more.

Army kicker Quinn Maretzki and Navy kicker Nathan Kirkwood each kicked one field goal.

The Army Black Knights finish the season with a 6-6 record while the Navy Midshipmen fall to 5-7. Navy leads the all-time series 62-55 with seven ties. The Black Knights also are the winners of the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy, which is given to the yearly winning record holder between the Army, Navy and Air Force academies. This year Army wins the trophy outright, taking over possession from Air Force, which won it last year.

Overall, Air Force has won the Commander-in-Chiefs trophy 21 times since it was first awarded in 1972, and the most recent victory was last season. The Navy has earned it 16 times, most recently in 2019. Army has been the recipient 10 times including this year. Their last one was in 2020. The trophy was shared between all three schools on five occasions, the last one being in 2021.

Next year’s Army-Navy game will be held at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, on Dec. 14, 2024.

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