Well friends, that was a wild one. I mean, I don’t know what else we were expecting. It’s Army-Navy, and this year the teams seemed evenly matched in the extreme. We saw that on the field. I don’t know that the Black Knights caught more breaks, necessarily, than the Mids did. But they caught a few BIG breaks, and they caught most of them at decisive points in the game.
All three phases matter in football. Army didn’t have its best offensive performance last night, but they won on defense, and they won on special teams, and with a game this close, that was — just — enough.
Whew! I’ll take it.
1-0 in @ArmyNavyGame OT history?#GoArmy | #BEATnavy pic.twitter.com/QoaMxMQsbY— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) December 11, 2022
Fan favorite QB Cade Ballard got the start last night, though we saw the return of the dreaded Two Quarterback System in this one. I’m not convinced that it did a lot of good. I thought they had the right game plan conceptually, for whatever that’s worth, but its execution left a good bit to be desired, especially through the first half. But look, Navy has had an elite run defense this season alongside a pass defense that has been exposed multiple times. That pass defense has been exposed despite an excellent, blitzing front seven. So running out of the shotgun and planning to throw, this was a good idea at its core.
Alas, Ballard looked nervous through the first part of the game, leading a bunch of his passes to be catchable but a little wild. That gave us a bunch of drops early, the most maddening of which might’ve come when Army got TE Josh Ligenfelter matched up one-on-one on Navy’s freaking Nose Tackle running down the field, and instead of leading the receiver outside into open space, the pass hit the defender squarely in the back.
I suspect that Navy’s pass rush had something to do with the execution in the passing game. The Mids damn-near beat Notre Dame using this blitzing scheme. But it also felt like it had been a very long time since this team threw for 300 yards against Conference USA Champion UT – San Antonio up at Michie Stadium earlier this season.
With all of that, Army went just 2/12 passing last night for a whopping 28 yards. They finished with just 153 yards of total offense. They rushed for 125 yards on 48 carries. It looked at times like they might’ve broken through if they’d stuck with the running game a little more relentlessly, but even so, they got fully 20% of their total rushing on one glorious play to start the first overtime.
WHAT A WAY TO START OVERTIME.— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 10, 2022
ARMY LEADS. pic.twitter.com/9fbKwqmEYD
Friends, that play really mattered a lot.
Thankfully, the Black Knights’ defense and special teams showed up to save the day. Navy ran for 259 yards on 4.5 yards/carry, but they also couldn’t consistently sustain drives down the field. Indeed, these teams played nearly the entire first quarter down in Army’s end of the field, but the Mids somehow still came away with just 3 points. Like Army, they finished 4/17 on 3rd down.
They attempted *10* punts in this game. But hey. They only got off 9 of them.
Unblocked ??#GoArmy | #BEATnavy pic.twitter.com/fZdIANaaal— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) December 10, 2022
I felt good as the teams went to overtime. Army’s defense had made no less than 4 goal line stands in the last two games. I believed that they would make another one here. Granted, we then saw the teams trade scores — immediately — after having seen both offenses flounder for four full quarters. Even so, as Navy set up for their last drive, you just knew that Coach Ken Niumatalolo would go for it on 4th-and-short, and that Army’s defense would stand strong and end the game right then and there.
What happened instead is that the Black Knights got a hat on the ball, jarring it loose as FB Anton Hall Jr. tried to take it into the end zone. Most of us, I think, were remembering a similar play from the Black Knights back in 2012. This one set up some measure of redemption for the ignominious failures of the Streak years and some personal redemption for K Quinn Maretzki, who hit a 39-yarder on the next overtime possession to seal Army’s victory.
A win is a win. This one was crazier than most, but as Coach Monken always says, “Every play matters in this game.”
WE’RE SINGING SECOND!!#GoArmy | #BEATnavy pic.twitter.com/ADyHnMhtz3— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) December 10, 2022
????? ???? ???? ? ‼️#GoArmy | #BEATnavy pic.twitter.com/RF9jYgcOxU— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) December 11, 2022
It’s amazing how a few random moments of success or failure can swing the emotions of a nation. An Army punt returner muffs a punt near his own goal line against UTSA, and the Black Knights drop the first of several winnable games this season against excellent competition. Later, a kicker misses from 42 yards out. That same kicker will make a no-doubt game winner from 39 yards out just four weeks later.
Those plays changed the complexion of the season. Hit that kick, don’t muff that punt, and Army is 8-4 instead of 6-6.
But little things matter. They matter in football, and they matter in life. This year’s Army Team didn’t — quite — have what they needed to overcome those moments.
Army had a down year this year, but when we say that, we have to keep perspective on what it means. These guys played three different teams that wound up in their conference championship games and had a real chance to beat all three of them. They struggled in their signature situations, on short yardage runs, and yet somehow managed to put together the most explosive offense of the Monken Era. They gave up more than 200 rushing yards/game, but they stood tall nearly every time that it mattered.
The state of the program has changed.
This is not the same old Army Team.
The ??????? moment‼️#GoArmy | #BEATnavy pic.twitter.com/lBPYCHuYNc— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) December 11, 2022
A down year in 2015 meant two wins and a bunch of one-score losses. But you could see the team’s potential if you looked hard enough. A down year in 2019 meant five wins alongside the emergence of a bunch of young players who would become the core of the team through a CiC-winning year in 2020 and a nine-win team in 2021.
In a down year in 2022, the Army Team has gone 6-6, lost a few close games to a few really, really good teams, and beaten Navy. The kind of luck that the Mids have had for 20 years finally fell on our side because, bottom line, it was never really luck at all. And we’ve begun to see the emergence of the next group of Army stars as we head into 2023.
Four of five starters return on Army’s offensive line. The quarterback of the future has already played a bunch and scored a couple of touchdowns. FB Jakobi Buchanan is graduating, but the rest of the Fullback Room will return. The Black Knights need to reload the slotback room, but playmaking WR Isaiah Alston should be back. On defense, LB Leo Lowin, DE Chris Frey, and Apache Jimmy Ciarlo will all be back. So will LB Camden O’Gara and a bunch of young players in the secondary.
So yeah. Next year’s schedule looks tough. But we’ve already seen what it looks like when this team struggles. Honestly, it ain’t all that bad.
Next year, I expect we’ll see some truly great things.
The Army-Navy Game is a celebration of family and dedication.— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 10, 2022
This month, we brought eight families to New York City with one thing in common: they all have sons who play college football for the U.S Military Academy or the U.S. Naval Academy.
This is their story. pic.twitter.com/cOkCDxwUPD
Go Army! Beat Navy!!!
Cover image via TE Coach Matt Drinkall (@DrinkallCoach) on Twitter.
Great write up – thanks. However, Buchanan is only a junior, so he’s better be back next year.
Thanks for the note. You are not the first person to point this out, alas.