December 8, 2012

Navy wins CIC over Army, 17-13

PHILADELPHIA -- The Army and Navy bands and cheerleaders gathered in the Marriott Market Street lobby Friday night taking turns playing fight songs to rally their respective fans who took over the City of Brotherly Love for the 113th Army-Navy Game.

Navy, though, taunted Army with one haunting sing-song chant for which Army had no response:

"One more decade! One more decade!"

Another decade of wins against Army might be a stretch, but Navy did make it 11 straight over the Black Knights with a 17-13 comeback victory before a sellout crowd of 69,607 that included Vice-President Joe Biden Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.

Navy also claimed the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for the first time since 2009 by having defeated Army and Air Force this season in the battle service academies.

"It means everything to get our No. 1 goal to start the season," said Navy fifth-year head coach Ken Niumatalolo said of the CIC Trophy that comes with a visit to the White House.

Of more immediate concern to Army than another decade-long losing streak is the next three years contending with the growing legend of Navy freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds. The game's MVP led the comeback with a fourth-quarter touchdown drive of 80 yards in seven plays with 4:41 left in the game.

"He made some huge scrambles there at the end when things broke down," Niumatalolo said. "He kept his composure, got the sticks (first downs). He does things well beyond his years. We don't work on those situations. That's just him making plays."

The 5-foot-11, 199-pounder's legend began to take root when he came off the bench to direct a 28-21 overtime win on Oct. 6 at Air Force. He's been the starter ever since then. Including the Air Force victory, Navy (8-4) is 7-1 with Reynolds leading the team.

Air Force coach Troy Calhoun says Reynolds adds a passing dimension to Navy's offense and called him possibly the best Navy passing quarterback since a fellow name Roger Staubach won the Heisman Trophy for the Midshipmen in 1963.
 
And it was Reynolds' arm and legs that beat Army on the game-winning drive. Army led 13-10 with 6:57 to play in the game when Navy took possession at its 20-yard following a missed 37-yard field goal by senior Eric Osteen.

Army's defense had contained the elusive Reynolds for three quarters, but on a third-and-8 from his 22-yard line he ran 10 yards for a first down. Two plays later he appeared trapped in the backfield when he escaped on an 11-yard scramble that "Rodger the Dodger" would have appreciated.

Then Reynolds placed a well-thrown 49-yard pass completion over tight coverage into the hands of 6-4 wide receiver Brandon Turner at the 8-yard line.

"We were in coverage," Army head coach Rich Ellerson said. "They did a nice job of throwing and catching. We had guys there fighting for the ball."

One play later Reynolds around right end for the game-winning touchdown.

Reynolds finished the game rushing 15 times for 43 yards and completing 10 of 17 passes for 130 yards. But of his173 yards total offense, he had only 87 entering the fourth quarter.

Despite Reynolds' heroics, Army still had a chance to win this game. The Black Knights' 2-10 record is a result of a defense that was too young for most of the season. On a day the defense kept the Black Knights in the game, the Army offense that leads the nation in rushing took over at its 17-yard line with 4:41 left to put together its own game-winning drive.

Army advanced to the Navy 14-yard line in the final two minutes before a lost fumble on the exchange between senior quarterback Trent Steelman and sophomore fullback Larry Dixon cost the Black Knights the game. With only 1:04 remaining, Navy was able to run out the clock and sing their alma mater second for the 11th straight year.

"It was routine triple option for us," Steelman said. "To be honest, I don't really know what happened. It was quarterback-fullback mesh. I'm running out of here (graduating), so I'll put that on me. There is no way I would put something like that on Larry."

Niumatalolo greeted and consoled on the field the bitterly disappointed Steelman, whose 11-yard touchdown run tied the game at 7-7 midway through the second quarter. It was also his 17th rushing touchdown of the year, tying the West Point record for rushing touchdowns in a season.

"(I told him) to just hang in there," Niumatalolo said. "He's a tough kid. We should all be proud as Americans that that guys is going to go to protect our country. They don't get any tougher than Trent Steelman. Four years starting at West Point, a military service academy. I know everyone in our locker room has nothing but respect for that young man."

Steelman finished with 17 carries for 96 yards and junior Raymond Maples carried 27 times for 156 yards as Army finished with 370 yards.

Army is stuck with a 2-10 record that could have been erased from memory by beating Navy and winning the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for the first time since 1996. This year's Army-Navy game was the first time the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy was winner-take-all since 2005.

Army seniors were crushed having completed their careers without ever defeating Navy. As bad as the first three hurt, they say the last one stings the most.

"It definitely does," said Osteen, who hit field goals from 41 and 21 yards before his fourth-quarter miss. "It's hard to describe. You see the Navy Midshipmen singing their alma mater, and it really hits home. It hurts."

Of course those sentiments seem to permeate throughout the team. Most notably at the post game press conference where a teary/red eyed Trent Steelman did everything he could to contain himself while attempting to answer the post game questions thrown his way.

Navy is now bound for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against Arizona State (7-5) in San Francisco.

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