A crowd of 68,705 filled Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon to witness the Navy Midshipmen’s dominating performance and march to victory over rival Army.
In the 120th Army-Navy game, the Mids took home the C.I.C. trophy for the first time since 2015. Led by the electric rushing of Malcolm Perry, a bit of trickery on offense and a stifling and stingy defense, Navy sang second, and beat Army 31-7.
Inch-by-inch, the Mids and Cadets seemed to make a steady start beginning the year-long awaited match-up. Questions that lingered in the air: who would start under center amidst the laundry list of injuries affecting Army quarterbacks? Would Malcom Perry’s passing game be a factor for the Army offense?
Senior Kelvin Hopkins Jr., who was nursing a hamstring injury from the meeting against Hawaii, didn’t appear until the last quarter. In his absence, Christian Anderson — who was tapped as quarterback for Army Friday — made his first career start during, arguably, the most contentious game of the year. At the top of the first quarter, the junior appeared shaky following a combined loss of five yards thanks to a sack by Jacob Springer. At 4th and 15, Army made the decision to bring out kicker Zach Potter who punted for 49 yards.
Navy answered with a short drive of their own — only three plays and nine yards shared between Perry and Jamale Carothers — followed by a 37-yard punt at the helm of Owen White.
The Black Knights then established their longest drive since taking on Rice in week one — 78 yards lasting 10:41 over the course of 18 plays. A 21-yard run by Christian Anderson gave the Black Knights a first down and set them up for Anderson to appear later for a 10-yard pass attempt to Cam Harrison. In true Army fashion, small gains were the recipe for their first touchdown, a five-yard touchdown run by Anderson. With a good kick, the Black Knights cemented their first and only touchdown of the game, 7-0.
A drive like that — that long, that debilitating — can damage a defense’s spirits, but Navy didn’t allow that to happen.
Despite Perry taking an early sack — via Cole Christiansen — during the second quarter, he led the Navy response, taking the Midshipmen down the field to tie up the game, 7-7.
Army answered with a six-play drive that ended in their second of three punts for the quarter. The Black Knights would not establish another first down until the fourth quarter.
Carothers began the Navy drive with three rushes to a first down before Perry took a five-yard out-of-bound run to set up a big 44-yard run to Army’s 17-yard line.
And then momentum seemed to change. Enter: The Philly Special — or at least a version of it. Perry took the snap, pitched it to Chance Warren, who was running a reverse, and Warren threw the ball to Carothers in the back corner of the end-zone for the go-ahead touchdown, putting Navy ahead 14-7 at halftime.
“It was off the Philly Special. Kind of appropriate to run it here. But we renamed it the Navy Special ... We practiced it a lot this week.” - Coach Ken Niumatalolo
Niumatalolo said after the game that offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper designed the play ahead of this game and the Mids practiced it often this week. It worked to perfection on Saturday.
After halftime, Army continued to struggle with establishing its run game. During their first drive of the second quarter, the Black Knights lost 13 yards over the course of three plays thanks to the trio of Navy defenders — Cameron Kinley, Nizaire Cromartie and Diego Fagot.
Army’s most successful drive of the second half wound up lasting 10 plays, but covered just 30 yards and ended with a turnover on downs. The Black Knights finished the day converting just 4-of-14 third downs.
While Army’s woes continued, Navy’s backfield duo of Carothers and Perry continued to shine. Carothers capped off a seven-play drive with a five-yard touchdown run, and a PAT from Bijan Nichols put Navy up by two scores. Nichols later converted a 37-yard field goal to pad Navy’s lead.
Perry had one more score in him, scampering 15 yards for the final touchdown of the day in the fourth quarter. He finished the day with 304 rushing yards, and became the all-time leader for rushing yards by a single player in the Army-Navy series.
“He’s shifty, he’s fast ... everybody in the country knows the he can run the ball.” - Elijah Riley on preparing Army for Malcom Perry.
With the game coming to a close, Army turned to Kelvin Hopkins Jr. in the fourth quarter. Playing with an injury, he came up with a short seven-yard pass to Kjetil Cline for a first down. The Mids failed to let up pressure and J’arius Warren, who totaled 11 tackles in the game, forced Connor Slomka to fumble. Warren recovered and Navy sealed the victory with that Perry touchdown.
While Army had won the last three games in the series, in the 120th all-time meeting, Navy ended the streak with a win that will send the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy to the United States Naval Academy.