As the clock expired on the Navy football team’s 27-21 victory over Army on Saturday afternoon, the brigade of Midshipmen chanted in unison: “Ten more years, ten more years!” The revelry reflected Navy’s decade of supremacy in one of college football’s fiercest rivalries and closed a season of excruciating near misses in the most satisfying way possible.
Many contributed to Navy’s 10th consecutive win against its service academy foil to the north, but perhaps no one was soaking it in more than place kicker Jon Teague, whose two fourth-quarter field goals provided the decisive points before 80,789 at FedEx Field that included President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
Teague’s first kick sailed through from 23 yards and came with 12 minutes 3 seconds to play to give the Midshipmen the lead for good. The senior who had missed nine kicks overall this season added a 44-yarder with 10:26 left, and after some tense moments down the stretch, Navy (5-7) was able to celebrate its closest triumph over Army since 2000 and numb the discomfort of its first losing season since 2002.
“It was a fairy-tale ending for us,” said Midshipmen Coach Ken Niumatalolo, who was holding back tears during his postgame news conference when discussing Teague and the rest of the senior class.
Redemption for Teague unfolded also thanks to a pair of seminal moments in the final five minutes. The first was a Navy defensive stand that forced a turnover on downs. Army had advanced from its 33-yard line to the Midshipmen 25 and on fourth and seven elected to go for it, but junior linebacker Matt Warrick came free on a blitz to drop quarterback Trent Steelman for a loss.
Then, as the Midshipmen were running out the clock on their ensuing possession, they faced fourth and one from their 48. Navy lined up as if it would go for the first down, but senior quarterback Kriss Proctor managed to draw freshman defensive tackle Jacob Drozd offside to extend the series and effectively end the first Army-Navy game contested within proximity of the nation’s capital.
“To beat Army for a decade is unheard of,” Proctor said after rushing for 97 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries. “To do anything 10 straight times, whatever it is, is hard to do, and for Navy to beat Army 10 straight times, it’s really remarkable.”
Navy finished with 296 rushing yards and attempted only three passes, one of which was completed for 13 yards. The Midshipmen rushed for their most yards against Army since 2008, and their passing yardage total was their lowest since 2007, when Navy threw for seven yards.
It was the first time this season Navy won a game when rushing for fewer than 300 yards, and it won for just the second time in seven games decided by eight or fewer points.
“It’s amazing to see where this program has come from 10 years ago when the program wasn’t necessarily going the right way,” said Navy’s Jabaree Tuani, a senior defensive tackle and co-captain.
After closing the first half on its heels, Navy got a jump-start to the third quarter courtesy of a 48-yard kickoff return by senior fullback Alexander Teich, who was inserted in place of regular returner Bo Snelson. Five plays later, Proctor scored from two yards after a pickup of 20 by sophomore slotback Gee Gee Greene and an eight-yard run by Teich on first and goal.
Army (3-9) came right back with its third consecutive touchdown drive, running six plays covering 74 yards to tie it at 21 on a 25-yard pass from Steelman to junior slotback Malcolm Brown at 9:45 of the third quarter and set up the dramatic finish.
Navy’s first scoring drive began at the Army 26 following a fumble by sophomore slotback Raymond Maples. Tuani dove on the ball for the Midshipmen, who themselves lost a fumble on their first series but avoided additional damage. Navy needed just six plays to take a 7-0 lead on Proctor’s four-yard touchdown with 1:06 to play in the first quarter.
Shortly thereafter, Army began with the ball at its 49 following a third-down sack of Proctor that forced a punt. On the first play from scrimmage, Black Knights junior fullback Jared Hassin fumbled the pitch on a hit by Tuani, and junior linebacker Brye French pounced on the loose ball at the Midshipmen 45.
With the momentum squarely in Navy’s corner, Proctor ran around the right side and found plenty of daylight. As he turned up the field, junior wide receiver Brandon Turner delivered a clearing block, and Proctor wound up with a 32-yard gain to the Army 23-yard line. Navy reached the red zone with Greene’s three-yard carry on first down, and Teich ran for two yards on third and one.
Greene was held to no gain on first down before Proctor got two on second. Teich then completed the series by collecting a toss around the right side and leaping into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter.
Just when it appeared Navy had the game under control, the Black Knights erupted for consecutive touchdowns, beginning with Steelman’s 34-yard jaunt between right guard and tackle. Navy went three plays and punt on its next try, giving Army the ball at its 38 with 2:45 to play. A little more than two minutes later, Brown was in the end zone following a five-yard run, and just like that, the game was knotted at 14 at halftime.
“It sounds cliche, but it’s the best feeling in the world,” Teague said. “It really is. I can’t describe it. Being able to come through for my brothers and being able to get this game for us, that’s the head on the nail right there.”