College Football

Midshipmen Fend Off Late Black Knights Attack in 122nd Army-Navy Game

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Army quarterback Christian Anderson hands the ball off to running back Tyrell Robinson during Saturday’s Army-Navy Game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The U.S. Navy Midshipmen defense stopped the U.S. Army Black Knights on fourth down for a turnover on downs with just 1:27 remaining in the game to secure a 17-13 victory in front of an announced crowd of 82,282 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. on Saturday afternoon.

Navy won the coin toss, which was flipped by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and deferred, giving Army the opening possession.

At first it seemed to be a continuation of last year, when Army ran over Navy, 15-0 in a foggy matchup at Michie Stadium at West Point. In this year’s opening possession, Army quarterback Christian Anderson ran an option for a 56-yard touchdown just 2:00 after the opening kickoff. It capped a four play, 75 yard drive to give Army an early 7-0 lead. The drive began with a pass from Anderson to Cole Caterbone, which surprised everyone.

Navy responded on the next possession with an 11 play, 83-yard drive that was capped by an eight-yard touchdown run by quarterback Tai Lavatai. It was the Midshipmen’s first points in an Army-Navy game since the fourth quarter of the 2019 game. A Bijan Nichols extra point tied the game, 7-7, with 7:22 remaining in the first quarter.

On the next possession, the Anderson hit Isaiah Alston for a 35-yard completion and Cade Barnard on a 12-yard pass to drive deep into Navy territory. On the next play, Anthony Adkins rushed for three-yards to the Navy 13. Tyhier Tyler replaced Anderson as Army’s quarterback but took a delay of game penalty. A four-yard run from Tyrell Robinson wasn’t enough for the first down, so the Black Knights had to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Cole Talley to take a 10-7 lead with just 13 seconds left in the first quarter.

The second quarter turned into a defensive grudge match. Each team had three full possessions and both teams attempted field goals. Navy’s Bijan Nichols missed a 53-yard field goal that went wide left with 4:53 left on the clock, while Army’s Cole Talley connected on a 32-yarder that was just inside the upright with 11 seconds left in the quarter. The halftime score was 13-7 in favor of the Black Knights.

Navy changed things up at halftime and then had its way with Army. The Midshipmen defense held Army to 57-yards in the entire second half.

Navy quarterback Tai Lavatai passes over the outstretched arms of Nolan Cockrill as Chance Warren runs his route during Saturday’s Army-Navy game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The Midshipmen opened the third quarter with a 10 play, 74-yard drive that took nearly six minutes off the clock. A 26-yard run by Chance Warren set up a two-yard rushing touchdown by Lavatai to give Navy a 14-13 lead with 9:02 left in the quarter.

The Black Knights were held to a three-and-out, giving Navy the ball just 1:26 later.

Neither team could get the offense going and both teams were forced to punt their next possessions, and the quarter ended with the Navy leading by a single point, 14-13.

It appeared that Army was going to hold the Midshipmen to a three-and-out on their next possession. On 4th-and-1 with the ball at the Navy 34, it looked like the Midshipmen were going to punt. As soon as the ball was hiked, a stunned Navy linebacker Diego Fagot grabbed the high snap, vaulted over a Black Knight defender, and spun his way for a four-yard gain and the first down to keep the drive alive. The broken play was a mistake which turned into good fortune for Navy.

Lavatai and Isaac Ruoss each ran for eight of the next ten plays on the possession, which ended with a Bijan Nichols 43-yard field goal. Navy now had a 17-13 lead with 6:10 left in the contest.

Army struggled to move the ball on their next possession, which ended with a punt with 3:19 remaining. The Midshipmen then failed to get a first down on their next possession, while Army used all three of their timeouts. Only 23 seconds ticked off the clock when Army got the ball back with 2:56 left in the game.

With the ball at the Army 33 yard line to begin the drive, Anderson completed a nine-yard reception to Caterbone at the 42 yard line. After an incomplete pass, Anderson rushed for a one-yard gain and the first down. The next two plays were incomplete passes before Anderson was able to connect with Tyrell Robinson for a seven-yard completion.

It was 4th-and-3 with the ball on the Navy 48 yard line. Anderson attempted to run for a three-yard first down but fell about a half yard short when Navy linebacker Diego Fagot hit him up high while defensive end Jacob Busic hit Anderson from behind. The quarterback fell a half yard short of the first down marker turning the ball over to the Midshipmen with just 1:27 left to play.

All it took was three kneel downs and Navy was able to run out the clock to take home a 17-13 victory and become the winner of the Secretary’s Trophy. It also guaranteed a tie for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, which will be under Army’s custodial care for the next year.

The Midshipmen racked up 278 yards of offense on the day, with 196 coming on the ground. They also held the Black Knights to 232 yard to total offense with 137 rushing and 108 coming through the air. Outside of Anderson’s 56-yard touchdown run in the beginning of the game, Navy was able to hold Army to 68 yards rushing for the rest of the game.

Though Army was a seven-point favorite coming into the contest, Navy believed that they were better than their record stated coming into the contest. They had the third toughest schedule in the FBS, behind only Indiana and Boise State, while Army was ranked 107th in that index.

Members of the U.S. Navy Midshipmen football team join their fellow student Midshipmen in singing second following their 17-13 win over Army in Saturday’s Army-Navy game in East Rutherford, N.J. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

“I don’t know if I have seen a better display of leadership than I saw from our seniors,” said Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo. “Things didn’t go well. We had a lot of close losses to tough teams. A lot of people saying things. But they kept our team together. I was just impressed with every week they came to battle. Every week they kept leading.”

“They beat blocks, they just destroyed blocks,” said Army coach Jeff Monken. “They just did a much better job defending us than we did attacking them on offense. We tried different things and none of them worked. We just got outplayed.”

Regarding Fagot’s fake punt, Niumatalolo said, “Sometimes it is good to be lucky. A little miscommunication there. Players have to make plays. I didn’t know we were going to do it either. I just looked at coach [Joe] Coniglio. He has been doing our punting and has done a great job. Thank goodness it worked.”

“I didn’t know we were going to do that. I was trying to yell but you couldn’t hear yourself think. We have all of these signals and our signals got mixed up. He was making a call … it wasn’t supposed to be happen. But it is good to be lucky too,” he added.

“They showed six people on the right and two to the left and we checked to an overload,” said Fagot, the linebacker. “I was supposed to block the closest guy to the snapper so I was looking that direction. When I checked it, I guess the snapper didn’t hear me. We had a fake in the game plan already, so I think he assumed that is what we checked to. He snapped it to me and at that point it turned into a reaction play, I really don’t know how else to describe it.”

For the Midshipmen, they advance their record to 4-8 on the season, but it was their final game of the season as they were not bowl eligible. The Black Knights drop to 8-4 but will play in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 22 at 7 p.m. CT in Fort Worth, Texas against the Missouri Tigers.

As for the overall record in Army-Navy games, Navy still leads the series 62-53-7. The 2022 Army-Navy game is scheduled for Dec. 10, 2022 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

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