Philadelphia – The No. 21 Midshipman of Navy (10-2) overcame a spirited, well-prepared Army underdog and kept them from scoring the entire second half to take the lead and won their 14th game in a row of this annual rivalry dating back to 1890, 21-17. Navy senior QB Keenan Reynolds ran for two TDs and threw for the third while Army freshman QB Chris Carter (9 of 15 completions for 208 yards, 1 TD/ 1 INT) gives hope to Army’s future. Army’s defense held Navy to 199 yards rushing. The Mids are the third top rushing offense in the nation averaging 319.2 yards per game. For both teams and for collegefootballfan.com, this was the final regular season game of 2015. Navy and CFF.com will both continue on to bowl games. Played in Philadelphia on the second weekend of December when and where we’ve endured sub-freezing temperatures over the years, the unseasonable 60 degree temperatures made the game feel more like the start of the college football season rather than the very end.
With three weeks to prepare against an offense, the triple option, the Cadets are very familiar with running it themselves; they forced Navy to punt after its first possession from their 47. A 21-yard return started Army from its 40 and they drove to score on Dan Grochkowski’s 32-yard field goal to put Army on the scoreboard first, 3-0. Navy flexed its offensive muscle on its next series. Reynolds (21 carries for 136 yards and 2 TDS; 6 for 14 passing for 113 yards and 1 TD) broke loose on the second play from scrimmage around the right side and dashed 58 yards for a 7-3 USNA lead. Army showed they came to win despite being a heavy underdog. Seven plays of an 82-yard drive were finished off by Tyler Campbell’s 29-yard TD run before the first period came to an end. The game seemed to be shaping up as a high –scoring affair if the defenses did not catch up.
Reynolds’s run of 36 yards set up his one-yard TD run not only to give the Mids the lead once again, 14-10, but it marked the 85th rushing touchdown of his career, the most for any player in the history of FBS/FCS football. Later in the second, Army retook the lead with 2:08 left as Carter connected with WR Edgar Poe for a 39-yard TD pass. The half ended with the 23-point underdog unexpectedly ahead, 17-14. The Secretary of Defense switched from the Navy to the Army side in the tradition of supporting both armed services during this historic rivalry.
Guest Game Analyst Frank Scarpa and I attended the Third Annual Army-Navy Boxing Classic the night before held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Both squads each won four bouts to end in a tie. Navy’s two women boxers won their bouts. No knockouts, but a lot of punches thrown throughout the evening. It was entertaining and the Army contingent cheered loudly echoing through the center loudly to beat Navy at something. The Mids won the first four bouts and the Cadets came back to win the last four. We definitely plan to do it again if held the evening before next year’s football game. This evening we finished up at the Philly Sports Bar and Diner in Runnemede, NJ close to our hotel. About six hours later, we were back for breakfast. On the way to our 10 am tailgate start, Frank and I stopped in south Philly to pick up four Philly Cheese Steaks from Geno’s, a South Philly original, to share with our fellow tailgaters partying at Lot N at The Linc. We met up with Brian and Dan Donnelly, Brian’s girlfriend Laurie, and their sister Eileen along with many other friends of theirs we met in recent years at previous Army-Navy games. It was difficult to recognize many at first without parkas, heavy coats, and hoods over their heads. An hour later, everyone was basically down to t-shirts on this very warm December Saturday. Brian was grilling hot wings with Old Bay spice on the grill, a Maryland staple. Eileen brought her “cheesey” potatoes. Dan brought extra additions for the Bloody Mary’s we were all mixing. The general consensus seems to be that everyone is using Tito’s Vodka now. Dino made a venison chili with the meat off the first deer his son ever got this hunting season. It was great feast shared by everyone, Army and Navy fans alike. Mike from Bergenfield, NJ brings his kids and nephew every year now as an annual family tradition. We met one of Dan’s fellow Frostburg State alum from Garrett County, Maryland introduced to me as “Shockey”. I asked him Northern or Southern High? One of my Juniata friends, Dave “Poindexter” Bender lives and teaches out there. Of course Frank Scarpa went into shock once again how I can meet so many people who are friends of friends from a college of 1,200 students. We also had the honor of meeting two Marine pilots attached to the air wing performing the pre-game flyover before the game. Frank and I even had time to fire the football around for a while. Our friend Joe Rogers of the College Football Bowl report showed up, first time we got together this year since last year’s Music City Bowl. Next year, we hope to be attending the 117th edition of Army-Navy when held in Baltimore again.
The third period started with both defenses dominating and forcing punts. Reynolds, who finished fifth in the Heisman voting announced later that evening, threw a 50-yard TD pass late in the third to WR Jamar Tillman (5 catches, 102 yards, 1 TD). The period ended with the Mids in the lead, 21-17. As the final period approached, the Black Knight offense was on the move.
Army drove to the Navy twelve, but it ended with a FG attempt wide left. Once again though, Army halted Navy’s vaunted offense to force a punt. Carter’s pass to DeAndre Bell went 39 yards to the Navy 33, but on the next play Carter fumbled and Navy LB Ted Colburn recovered. Army forced another punt after stopping Reynolds on two consecutive carries for no gains. After a touchback, Carter attempted a sideline pass, but FS Lorentez Barbour picked it off at the 44. Army held again and took over from the 20 with one time-out left. The Cadets moved to Navy’s 29, but an end around option pass by Bell was intercepted by S Daiquan Thomasson at the Navy three thwarting another Black Knight threat. Navy was forced to punt again, but time was eroding. Army took over with eleven seconds left. Two incompletions later, Navy won for the 14th time in a row to finish 10-2, tying the USNA record for its most wins in one season. The Mids also won back the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for 2015 having defeated both Air Force and Army this season. The traditional celebration was on. The teams gathered on the field for their respective alma maters, and for the 14th straight year and the 60th time since 1890, “Navy Blue and Gold” was sung second. Keenan Reynolds became the first QB in the 116-game series to go 4-0 as starting QB, a record that will never be exceeded in the record books of this classic rivalry.
Army finished its season at 2-10 with wins over Eastern Michigan and Bucknell. Six losses were by a touchdown or less. The three weeks of prepping for this game and working with frosh QB Chris Carter may make Jeff Moncken’s third year as Head Coach in 2016 the charm. We’ll be watching. We hope to see the Black Knights play at least once next season before Navy in Baltimore. No. 21 Navy will meet Pitt (8-4) in the Military Bowl to be held in the friendly confines of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. For collegefootballfan.com, it will be the fourth time we will see the Mids and the Panthers square off. The first was in 1974 when Pitt came to Annapolis with sophomore RB Tony Dorsett and took home a hard-fought 13-11 win. In 2007 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on a Thursday night, the Mids upended the Panthers, 48-45, in 2 OTs. And in 2013, we saw Reynolds and company top Pitt, 24-21, in Annapolis. All three games were won by three points or less. This game should be similar as Pitt probably has been working to stop the option since their last game lost to Miami (F.) on November 21. Their other three losses were to Iowa, North Carolina, and Notre Dame who had only five losses among them and all ranked in the Top Ten. For CFF.com, the Military Bowl will be our first of for bowls followed by the Russell Athletic (Dec. 29, UNC vs. Baylor), Orange Bowl CFP (Dec. 31, Clemson vs. Oklahoma), and Outback Bowl (Jan. 1, Northwestern vs. Tennessee). Happy Bowl Season!