Army took home the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy with a nail-biting 14-13 win over Navy. Here is the Black Knight’s report card:
Rushing Offense: B-
The rushing offense was obviously going to be asked to carry Army even more than usual on a day where passing the ball was never, ever going to be on the cards.
The snowy, slippery field made getting any kind of offensive production a grind, but the Black Knights ran the ball well on their first and last drives of the game and that proved to enough for this huge win. Army rushed for 221 yards as a team on 49 carries in a fast-paced game that flew by as neither side was inclined to pass the ball.
The first Black Knights drive of the game was exactly what it needed to be. Army ran pure power-option football, jamming the ball down the throats of the Navy defenders behind angry running from quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw and fullback Darnell Woolfolk. There was little to nothing available on the edges, so head coach Jeff Monken countered this by attacking between the tackles, grinding through the snow for that vast majority of Army’s yardage.
Bradshaw finished with 94 yards and a touchdown, while Woolfolk contributed 57 yards and a score on the ground. The running game was less dynamic than usual save for a 33-yard Kell Walker scamper – and it bogged down for stretches in the middle of the contest – but overall the rushing attack carried Army to this program-defining win.
Passing Offense: C
The worry coming in was the Navy would stop the Black Knights rushing attack enough that Bradshaw would have to put the ball in the air. This was not the case though and the Army passing attack consisted of one single pass completion for 20-yards. We weren’t really expecting any more than that from this aspect of the game and the fact that Bradshaw got out of Philadelphia without throwing an interception – or committing a turnover at all – is enough for a middling grade.
Rushing Defense: B-
Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry is going to be a frustrating player for the Black Knights to face over the next couple of seasons. Perry rushed for 250 yards on the ice rink of a field at The Linc and – if we are honest – he was the best player on the field.
The Navy rushing strategy was interesting here. They started by simply running quarterback power style keepers with Perry, challenging the Army defense to stop him one on one. The Black Knights quickly shut down the other Navy rushing options as everyone other than Perry combined to rush 17 times for 44 yards. Navy was looking for the explosive play, assuming that if they threw Perry into the Army front 10 times he would break one.
It was a strategy that would have worked aside from one of the great hustle plays in the history of this rivalry.
Perry broke a huge run early in the third quarter and seemed to be on his way to his second long touchdown of the game. It was a zone option that he read correctly, and he was almost 50-yards downfield by the time he was barely tackled from behind by a diving Army player. As the dust settled it became clear that defensive end John Voit was the guy who had made the play, sprinting after the much faster Perry in the hope of preventing a touchdown. Navy was unable to push the ball in from the 11-yard line, settling for a field goal that made it a 13-7 game instead of the 17-7 that it would have been without Voit’s no-quit play.
Passing Defense: D
The passing defense got lucky on their only real action of the day as a Navy trick play fell incomplete when it could easily have gone for a touchdown.
Some trickeration in the backfield saw wide receiver Craig Scott emerge with the ball rolling to his right. Perry had slipped out of the backfield from his quarterback spot and was wide open with nothing in front of him but green (or white on this occasion). It was a walk-in touchdown, but the Scott pass was a bad one and it dropped incomplete. It was a play that changed the outcome of the game, but not because the Army defense had read what was happening.
Special Teams: D-
Two big special teams’ mistakes almost cost Army its first Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy since 1996.
Blake Wilson had the chance to bring Army back to 13-10 down with the first play of the fourth quarter, but his 35-yard field goal was no good. It was a kick Wilson needed to make because it gave Navy decent field position, but the defense stepped up and forced an immediate punt to regain momentum.
The second mistake was in many ways an even bigger one. After Army had taken the lead with just over five minutes to play, Nick Schrage’s kickoff bounced out of bounds and gave Navy the ball at their own 35-yard line. The Mids drove from this point into makeable field goal range, before a couple of false start penalties pushed their kicker back and saved Schrage’s blushes.
Army was outplayed for stretches during this game and they were outgained by Navy. Monken, though, understands the pulse of this squad and he made the right calls down the stretch to kickstart a running game that had been slowed down and push Army over the line against its biggest rival.
It was not a classic by any means – the conditions saw to that – but it was a good, old-fashioned football game played in real football weather. Monken and Army have done great things over the last couple of seasons and outcoaching Ken Niumatalolo in this one ranks right up there with the team’s greatest accomplishments under his command.