There were no Heisman candidates or major award winners. With a combined seven wins, neither team was within a sniff of a bowl. Yet, none of that mattered on a crisp and clear Saturday afternoon less than 10 miles from the nation’s capital at Fed Ex Field. It was, after all, the 112th playing of Army and Navy.
An event that oozes with pride and patriotism had a heightened level of both thanks to a visit from President Barack Obama, who took in the opening half on the Navy side before crossing the field at halftime to be with the West Point brass. Well after the late-autumn sun had disappeared and the first game played between the Academies within the Capital Beltway was entered as another chapter in the storied series history, the Midshipmen and their faithful celebrated yet another victory. The 27-21 win was Navy’s 10th consecutive over Army.
This victory, in front of 80,789, was unlike any of the previous nine in which Navy was victorious by a combined 322-91 and winning five by at least 28 points. This game would not be a rout as the teams went back and forth with Navy letting a pair of leads slip away, including a 14-0 second-quarter advantage. The Middies took the lead for good, though, on Jon Teague’s 23-yard field goal that made the score 24-21 with 12:03 remaining the fourth quarter. The kick capped an 18-play, 75-yard drive that chewed up 9:12.
After Army’s Scott Williams fumbled away the ensuing kickoff when he was leveled by Navy’s Noah Copeland, the Midshipmen were knocking on the door again with Black Knights’ 27 the starting point. Though Navy could not muster a single yard on three plays, Teague drilled a 44-yard field goal with 10:26 to play for the final margin.
For the senior kicker, it was a wonderful way to conclude what had been a difficult season. Teague had an extra point blocked against Air Force in a 35-34 overtime defeat on Oct. 1 and things continued to go down hill after that. He made only 8-of-13 field goals coming in and had a couple of disheartening misses. Teague had a potential game-winner blocked late in the fourth quarter against Rutgers on Oct. 15 and he hit the right upright on the game’s final play versus East Carolina the following week. He kept battling and better times were ahead.
“Beating Army is something that I have always dreamed,” said Teague. “I know it sounds cliché, but it’s the best feeling in the world. I was definitely hugging the right upright today, but they went through.”
They did indeed and they put to an end to criticism directed at Teague that lit up many a message board during that rough month of October. Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo choked up at the postgame press conference when he started to talk about his kicker.
“It’s just a game and some of the things that were said about the kid were like he committed a crime,“ said Niumatalolo of how people responded to Teague’s misses. “It could not have ended up better for someone like Jon, who had to persevere through all of the criticism.”
Army, which fumbled the ball away three times, would not have an answer to Teague’s field goals. The Black Knights would drive to the Navy 24 with six minutes remaining, but that’s when junior linebacker Matt Warrick took over. On 2nd-and-6, he picked a great time to record his first-career sack, dropping Trent Steelman for a five-yard loss. Two plays later with the Black Knights having to go for it on 4th-and-7, Warrick tackled Steelman for a one-yard loss and giving the ball to the Middies with less than four minutes remaining.
On that ensuing possession, facing a fourth down and less than a yard at their own 48, Navy’s Gee Gee Greene faked going into motion. That drew Army offside and, from there, the Middies were able to largely melt the clock as they left Army with one desperate play from its own 10.
“It was a battle and both teams fought hard to the end,” said Niumatalolo, now 4-0 versus Army. “It’s unfortunate one team had to lose. Both teams had a hard time stopping each other.”
With the win, Navy improves its all-time series lead to 56-49-7.
“We didn’t do the things that correlate with success on the scoreboard,” said Army coach Rich Ellerson, who endured his third loss in the series. “We didn’t win the turnover battle. We got crushed in the kicking game and those are always going to be strategic determinations of who wins and loses.”
For Navy supporters, the scoreboard indicated they will have bragging rights for another year – a year that will once again be painful at West Point.