Midway through the fourth quarter of Navy’s 10-6 victory over Army in men’s lacrosse on Saturday, Navy coaches tried to take senior longstick midfielder Matt Rees out for a breather before a faceoff. To that point Rees had played nearly the entire game.
Rees sent his would-be replacement back to the bench. It was a day for the seniors to play to the end. The Midshipmen needed to win to assure themselves a spot in the conference tournament — a loss may have ended their season.
And the Midshipmen triumphed after senior Brady Dove won eight of the final 11 faceoffs and Rees and classmate Chris Fennell helped hold Army scoreless over the final 18:32.
Navy (6-7, 4-4 Patriot League) ended the game on a 7-0 run.
“From the 3:30 mark of the third quarter [Navy] really took over,” Army Coach Joe Alberici said.
The trappings for Army-Navy were evident early. The crowd of 12,705 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium was the largest for an Army-Navy game in Annapolis in recent memory. The pregame festivities included a locker room visit from the Naval Academy commandant, Col. Stephen Liszewski.
“He said, ‘Empty the [gas] tank,’ ” Fennell said. “It’s something we were echoing the whole game.”
The eighth-ranked Black Knights (10-2, 6-1) entered with a nine-game winning streak that included handing No.1 Syracuse its only loss this season.
Army looked like it would extend the streak after senior Cole Johnson scored for a 6-3 lead with 3:32 left in the third quarter. Compounding things for Navy was junior Steven Hincks’s penalty that gave Army an extra-man opportunity.
But Dove won the ensuing faceoff, and Navy killed the penalty without giving up possession. Soon after the penalty ended, sophomore Greyson Torain scored on a 15-yard bounce shot to cut the deficit to 6-4. Ten seconds later Navy was within one after Dove won the ensuing faceoff and scored on a fast break.
The spurt got the crowd and the Navy players on the sideline back into the game. It also spurred Navy’s deciding 7-0 run that included two goals from sophomore Ryan Wade.
Sophomore Nate Jones scored two goals for Army, but Johnson didn’t fare as well. He was involved in the game within the game — a matchup of Army’s leader in goals and assists and Fennell, a preseason first-team all-American.
Fennell held Johnson to one goal and three shots, including zero shots in the first 32 minutes. Moreover, the goal came when Johnson was being guarded by senior John Trainor following a switch. Fennell, meanwhile, matched Johnson’s points total with an assist on a goal by junior Dave Little that gave Navy the lead for good, 7-6 with 8:20 to play.
The Navy seniors had help on Saturday. Freshman Ryan Kern finished with a career-high 17 saves, 14 in the second half. He entered with a .483 save percentage while allowing 9.31 goals per game — higher numbers than usual for a Navy goalie. In the past three games he had 18 saves combined.
“I was just locked in,” Kern said. “Before the fourth quarter [defensive midfielder] DJ Plumer said, ‘No more goals, I don’t care what you have to do.’ Chris [Fennell] was saying it the whole fourth quarter, too.”
The day began with a senior day ceremony for Navy; Army’s players and Alberici watched from the sideline and, when it ended, Alberici joined the crowd in a round of applause for Navy’s seniors.
In the end, the day’s honorees gave themselves something invaluable — at least one more game, a Patriot League quarterfinal on April 25. “I try to work hard every day. I don’t try to save it to the end,” Fennell said. “We just put it all out there.”