At the start of the third quarter, Navy’s offense lined up just outside of Army’s goal-line seeking their first score of the day. The Midshipmen gained a yard, then lost a yard, then gained the yard back, and were suddenly facing fourth down — just three feet away from pay-dirt.
But Army’s defense did not break. The men of West Point stuffed Navy fullback Nelson Smith, forcing a turnover on downs. All day long, amid the heavy fog lingering along Hudson River, the Black Knights’ defense stymied the Midshipmen. Army held Navy to 1-for-11 on third downs, allowed them to complete 1-of-7 passes and forced them into a costly fourth quarter turnover and an unfortunate safety.
Most importantly — for the first time since 1969 — Army did not allow Navy to score. Whatsoever.
In the game’s historic return to the grounds of the U.S. Military Academy, Army beat Navy 15-0 front of a limited crowd at Michie Stadium. It is Army’s first win over Navy at West Point.
Army (8-2) has now beaten Navy (3-7) in the annual clash in four of the past five years. The victory sets up a rare winner-take-all contest for the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy next weekend, when the Black Knights host the Air Force Falcons.
On offense, Army was led by sophomore quarterback Tyhier Tyler. The Newport News, Virginia native was making his third career start, but he played like a veteran Saturday, picking his spots against a stingy Navy defense.
Tyler completed his lone pass attempt of the day near the end of the first quarter, finding Tyrell Robinson for 28 yards. The crucial pick-up set up Army’s first score of the day, a 37-yard field goal by Quinn Maretzki. That score would’ve been enough, but the Black Knights’ offense had a bit more to give.
At the end of the third quarter — with the Black Knights still holding a narrow 3-0 lead — Navy quarterback Xavier Arline pitched the ball late to C.J. Williams, who mishandled the toss and fumbled the ball. There to scoop it up was Army linebacker Jon Rhattigan, a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award.
Army turned that extra possession into points. Five plays and 13 yards later, Tyler found the end-zone on a four-yard run for the game’s only touchdown. In all, Tyler logged 26 carries for 96 yards. The unit largely leaned on Tyler, as no other Army player had more than six touches or more than 13 rushing yards.
Jeff Monken’s side put the game on ice later in the final quarter, with Daryan McDonald tackling Mark Walker in the end-zone for an emphatic safety, and having Maretzki connect on a 40-yard field goal on Army’s ensuing possession.
For Army’s defense, Arik Smith and Amadeo West each had nine total tackles.
Army's Defense— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 12, 2020
Points allowed: 0
Points scored: 2 pic.twitter.com/evIXJPqMBW
Navy’s defense played admirably too, but the Mids’ offense could not sustain a consistent attack. Navy missed a few chances to flip this game. At the end of it, all Ken Niumatalolo’s team is left with is thoughts of what-ifs.
A play that could’ve changed the game was the one that put the Midshipmen on Army’s goal-line, a 52-yard scamper by Xavier Arline. The freshman quarterback was just inches away from scoring, but was stopped short of the pylon by Army defensive back Cedrick Cunningham. It would be easy to argue that the touchdown-saving tackle was the play of the game.
The second missed opportunity for the Mids came late in the third quarter, when Tyler fumbled. As the ball bounced, only Navy players surrounded it. But attempts to scoop it up were ineffective and the ball rolled out of bounds, saving the possession for Army. Had a Navy defender been able to pick the ball up, he could’ve walked into the endzone with ease.
Army controlled the time of possession, owning more than 35 minutes of clock. The defensive battle ended with 15 total punts and both teams combining for 5-of-25 on third downs.
For the Mids, Arline had 109 rushing yards on 17 carries, while Nelson Smith had 23 yards on 11 touches. J’arius Warren led the Navy defense with a career-high 14 total tackles, while Nick Straw had a career-high 10 tackles.
In the end, Army’s defense was better. And on offense, the Black Knights just made a few more important plays than Navy.
Army’s season isn’t over just yet. Next week, the C.I.C. Trophy is on the line against another Service Academy rival. Then, it’s bowl season.