The Black Knights left Lincoln Financial Field with their first Commander-in-Chief’s trophy since 1996
Photo by Michael Corsey @ Michael Corsey Photography
By AL THOMPSON
The service academies of Army and Navy were not able to put on their spectacular pregame daredevil parachuting exhibitions and flyovers because of the snowstorm that blanketed the skies over the Philadelphia area Saturday.
But none of the 68,625 fans who packed Lincoln Financial Field felt let down after watching the memorable performances put on during the 118th Army-Navy football game, won by the Black Knights, 14–13, on a fourth-quarter drive orchestrated by their team captain and quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw.
The entire game was played under non-stop snowfall making the conditions nearly impossible.
The field was covered with the white stuff to point where most of the field markings could not be seen.
But the action on the field was as intense as any Army-Navy game ever played.
The game wasn’t decided until Navy kicker Bennett Moehring’s 48-yard field goal attempt drifted just left of the goal post as time expired. It was the second consecutive win for Army (9–3) who had lost to the Midshipmen 14 consecutive times until breaking the streak with last season’s win in Baltimore.
It was also the first Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy won by Army since 1996.
“It’s pretty indescribable to be honest with you,” starting left guard Joshua Boylan said on the field after the game. “It’s the culmination of four years of work. I couldn’t be prouder of my teammates. The senior class, we started with this program wanting to make a change. I think we solidified that with this win.”
Army scored on its opening drive when the Black Knights drove 68 yards on seven plays, ending with a three-yard touchdown run by fullback Darnell Woolfolk.
Navy answered with a 13-play, 64-yard drive that ended with a 28-yard field goal by Moehring.
The Midshipmen made it 10–7 on their first drive of the second quarter when sophomore quarterback/running back Malcolm Perry bolted 68 yards for a touchdown. Perry started the game for senior Zach Abey.
Navy scored its final points of the day on a 24-yard field goal to open the third quarter. On the nine-play drive, Perry exploded out of the backfield at the Navy 43-yard line and was headed to what appeared to be a sure touchdown when 6-foot-3, 265-pound defensive end and team captain John Voit somehow chased down Perry in the snow and made a diving, game-changing play, getting a hand on Perry’s foot, tripping him up at the 11-yard line. The Midshipmen were unable to get past the six-yard line and were forced to kick the field goal.
“That was a huge play in the game,” Army head coach Jeff Monken said at his post-game press conference.
Voit had fun talking about his speed in catching the emerging Navy star from behind.
“A lot of these guys think I’m pretty slow,” Voit said with a wide smile. “I had to show off my wheels … and I got him.”
Voit also talked about how the Black Knights have improved their toughness in the trenches and how that is translating to two consecutive winning seasons.
“All year long we’ve been preaching to be warriors in the fourth quarter and winning the fourth quarter and we just did that tonight,” Voit said. “That fourth quarter, we knew we had to win it and we did and came out on top.”
Army’s third-quarter drive ended at the beginning of the fourth quarter with a missed 34-yard field goal by Blake Wilson. Things were not looking good for the Black Knights
But Voit and his teammates on defense stepped up and forced a three-and-out by Navy.
Then Bradshaw literally took matters into his own hands, rushing nine times in a 13-play drive that ended with the senior powering his way into the end zone from the one to give the Black Knights a 14–13 lead they would not give up.
Bradshaw led Army with 94 yards on 21 carries and the touchdown. He threw one pass and completed it for 20 yards. Woolfolk had 57 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown. Kell Walker chipped in with 39 yards on five carries.
Navy’s starting quarterback all season was Zach Abey, who, despite missing significant time this year due to injury, entered the game as one of the leading rushers in the FBS.
He was replaced in the starting lineup Saturday by Perry, Navy’s star for the next two years.
Perry rushed 30 times for 250 yards including his long touchdown run in the second quarter. Abey finished with just two carries for three yards. Perry threw one pass for two yards.
Perry almost pulled off a game-winning drive 5:10 left in the fourth.
The 5–9, 185-pound blur moved Navy to the Army 23-yard line with two-minutes left and a chance to win the game.
But two penalties for false starts that also forced a 10-second runoff left the Midshipmen on the 31-yard line, with fourth down and just three seconds on the clock. The penalties turned a make-able field goal attempt, even in seven inches of snow, into a long shot that did not come through.
“I should have made the kick,” Moehring said after the game. “I was pretty zoned in and told myself to make contact. I thought I did. The ball came off of my foot pretty clean. I thought I had a chance, and unfortunately it went the wrong way this time.”
Voit was asked if Perry was thinking too much on the last drive causing the two Navy penalties.
“I don’t know,” Voit said. “I was looking at the (stats) sheet, he had 250 yards. He had a really good game … maybe. I know we were throwing some new stuff at him in the fourth quarter and it worked.”
Perry said he wasn’t celebrating after his big day.
“My performance isn’t satisfying unless we win,” said Perry, who has four rushing touchdowns this season of 65 or more yards. “We put ourselves in a position to possibly win the game and we didn’t. We made too many mistakes.”
Ken Niumatalolo’s record as Navy head coach in 10 seasons is 83–48. He has been on the Navy sideline as either an assistant or head coach for 19 of the last 22 years. Over those 19 seasons, Navy has compiled a 150–98 record.
His teams have dominated the Army-Navy series over that time. He has never lost to Army two consecutive years. So this is uncharted waters for Niumatalolo, not only for himself but his players.
“This is a disappointing loss,” Niumatalolo said at his post-game press conference. “It was a hard fought game. Two teams played really hard out there. We came up a couple feet short. This is a great rivalry, another classic game. Unfortunately for us, we were on the short end of the stick. I feel for our seniors and the guys in the locker room right now. They’ll get over this. They’re great young men and they’ll continue to persevere.”
Navy (6–6) will next play in the Military Bowl against Virginia on Dec. 28 in Annapolis, Md.
Boylan said the image of Army football has changed for the better over the last two seasons but he would not agree this group has left a legacy, at least not now.
“It’s not done yet,” Boylan said. “We have one more game to go in Fort Worth Texas (Armed Forces Bowl vs. San Diego State on Dec. 23) but this was definitely a huge building block for us to pave the path for the younger guys.”
Boylan said these past two seasons have put Army football back on the map.
“For a lot of years you heard, ‘you can’t win at Army,’” Boylan said. “It’s not possible, there’s just too many obstacles, from summer training on, but we wanted to come out here and say ‘forget excuses,’ it’s not about excuses. It’s about doing our job. We showed the discipline and toughness to get the job done and that’s what we wanted to do.”
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii