On a sunny, and windy, afternoon in Memphis the Navy Midshipmen were on the hunt for more than a bowl game victory. They were looking for redemption; not only for themselves after last season, but also for their conference, and the group of five in general against so called “Power 5” opponents.
Kansas State received to start the game, and began with some punishing runs from James Gilbert reaching Navy territory. K-State went for it on 4th and 5; Skylar Thompson’s pass hit Phillip Brooks right in the numbers, but Brooks failed to secure the pass, forcing a turnover on downs.
Navy put together a strong drive lasting 11 plays going for 55 Yards, including a 25 yard scamper by Malcolm Perry, but was stopped on third and goal. The reliable Bijan Nichols was called on to drill a 21 yarder, and Navy had the first points of the contest 3-0.
Shortly thereafter the Navy defense forced a quick Kansas State three-and-out after Jackson “Sackman” Pittman took down K-State Quarterback Thompson.
On the ensuing Navy drive the Midshipmen were flagged for pass interference on second and long, which eventually turned into a third and very long. The Mids ended up punting it away to Phillip Brooks, who redeemed himself for the dropped pass, and returned it 66 Yards to pay dirt putting the wildcats up 7-3.
Navy would come out swinging on their next drive with four passes, four runs, and a successful fourth down attempt. The drive went for 75 yards and ended with Perry dropping a dime to Keoni-Kordell Makekau putting the Mids up 10-7.
The Navy defense came up big on the next drive, and enduring some pretty terrible calls from the officials, they would hold the Wildcats to a field goal, evening the score to ten a piece. The Mids weren’t able to get anything going on the next drive. That is, other than getting the K-State defensive line to jump offside on forth and three, when they ran the classic Navy fake play. The Mids would end up punting just 4 plays later, effectively ending the half.
Navy once again came out ready for action to start the third quarter, putting together a 75-yard drive over 7 plays, and lasting nearly five minute. The play culminated this Chance Warren reverse going for 20 yards and a Navy Touchdown, putting the Mids up 17-10. Most significantly, this is also the drive in which Malcolm Perry eclipsed the all time single season rushing record for a quarterback.
Kansas State looked to be on the move for more points on their next drive, until a botched snapped resulted in an 18-yard loss. Soon after Diego Fagot sacked Skylar Thompson and forced a fumble that K-State recovered, but they punted to Navy on 4th down.
The opponents exchanged a pair of punts on the next two series. The following Navy Drive, filled with brilliant runs by Perry, ended in an uncharacteristic missed field goal by Nichols. The Wildcats were then back in business with a fantastic 6 play 79-yard drive that would tie the game at 17-17.
This is the part of the show where Malcolm Perry normally takes over and wills his team to a victory, but all hands were on deck for Navy’s final drive at the Liberty Bowl; that included this incredible slotback pass from CJ Williams to Warren on 4th down, that was followed by the 23-yard game winning Field Goal from Nichols.
NAVY PULLS OUT THE TRICK PLAY TO SET UP THE GO AHEAD FG! pic.twitter.com/tl8M1VhgWp— ESPN (@espn) December 31, 2019
Navy finishes the season at 11-2 and ties the best record in program history. Navy also brought home the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy for the first time since 2015. This comes on the heels of one of the worst seasons in program history when the Mids finished 3-10 in 2018. It’s not hyperbole to say this is arguably one of the most incredible comeback seasons in college football history.
If you caught any of the press conference after the Army Navy game, then you know it can be attributed to three key changes for the program: 1. Committing to Malcolm at QB, 2. The attitude the 2020 Firsties brought to the program starting in January 2019, and 3. The hire of defensive coordinator Brian Newberry and company.
Those are three major shifts resulting in different coaching approaches and program culture. This team went back to the 1-0 attitude that was ingrained in the class of 2020 as plebe’s, by their Captains Keenan Reynolds and Bernie Serra. The class of 2020 made a deliberate decision 12 months ago; a decision to bring back the approach that led them to 11-2 as Plebes. Malcolm Perry, Ford Higgins, Nizaire Cromartie, and Paul Carothers; four young men – the leaders of the Navy Football program, made a decision to personally bear that burden. They made a decision to restore the culture of accountability, the same one they knew as freshmen, on the entire program that had become theirs, three years later. Here we are on the eve of 2020; Navy once again owns the rights to the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy, and they stand champions of the 7th oldest bowl game in the nation, the Liberty Bowl. Mission Accomplished, gentlemen!