It was a rough weekend to be an Army fan.
On Friday night, Navy’s ACHA D1 hockey team defeated Army’s ACHA D2 squad in a 7-3 rout. Luckily, I was at a comedy show with my wife and was spared the agony of watching the game live, but little did I know that the laughs from Friday would be the last ones of the weekend.
Saturday marked the 122nd meeting between Army and Navy on the gridiron, and was filled with all of the pomp and pageantry of ESPN College Gameday, march-on, and more. Though it would’ve been cool to have been a part of the atmosphere in-person, it felt nice to get hyped up for the big game from the warmth and comfort of home.
For a complete rundown of the game, check out the Against All Enemies post-game recap - my goal is to highlight some takeaways for Army as they head into the Armed Forces Bowl against Mizzou (while Navy gets a leg up on preparing for the 2022 season).
While I acknowledge factors such as some missed delay-of-game calls, a blatant personal foul (ripping a player’s helmet off is against the rules last I checked - watch this clip from about 16:25 to 16:31), and others pointed out by Army faithful on Twitter, at the end of the day, you can’t use those as excuses to justify a loss.
Last of the Hard
Some shade has been thrown at Army’s motto or team culture for the 2021 season, “last of the hard.” And while the Black Knights didn’t finish ahead on the scoreboard, it wasn’t for a lack of grit. It was a 4-point loss in arguably the biggest sports rivalry in history. Army’s offense tried to get the ball to Tyrell Robinson and utilize QB zone runs instead of relying on its stable of fullbacks, and Navy’s defense adjusted to that, limiting success especially in the second half.
Looking ahead, the Black Knights may need to recommit to the fullback against Mizzou. They’re likely to find greater success against the Tigers, whose defense gives up an average of 220+ yards on the ground. And if there’s any question about whether Army strives to live up to that “last of the hard” mentality, check this clip out:
In Case I Missed It: Senior Noah Knapp was featured on ESPN's Get Up "Pancakes" segment with @SaturdayJeff Tuesday #ArmyFootball pic.twitter.com/juBowlJjJ8— Sal Interdonato (@salinterdonato) December 16, 2021
Bring the Heat
Listening to various sources preview the Army-Navy Game, I remember something that captured a lot of focus - Navy’s tendency to turn the ball over and Army’s proclivity for forcing turnovers. However, Navy’s offense did not turn the ball over once, meaning the Black Knights failed to force a turnover. In many cases, Army’s ability to force turnovers has been a key to victory.
Unfortunately, the Black Knights did not get enough pressure on Navy QB Tai Lavatai to force a mistake. With just one sack, one QB hurry, and no passes defended, Navy’s offense was able to gain yards when they needed it. In order to close this season out with a win, the Army defense will need to bring pressure and force turnovers next week in the Armed Forces Bowl.
It’s no secret that Army’s special teams, has been burned several times this season. From an opening kickoff returned for a touchdown to allowing multiple fake punt conversions on 4th down. And one of those fake punt conversions proved to be the dagger against Navy. Navy LB Diego Fagot took the snap and converted on 4th and 1 at the Navy 34 to keep the Mids’ final scoring drive in the fourth quarter alive.
Though Navy was still leading 14-13 at the time, getting the ball back with significant time left in the game could’ve shifted the outcome of the game in Army’s favor. The Black Knights can’t allow a conversion like that if they want to close out this season with a bowl game victory next week.
In closing, it was an awful weekend to be an Army fan. I was hoping for a pick-me-up after the Friday night hockey loss to Navy, but instead I got to watch Army falter on the football field as well. It was even more disheartening watching Army fans bicker amongst each other on Twitter in the wake of the loss.
One thing I did notice — and Navy fans can correct me if I’m wrong — but I can’t recall Army players (fans are a completely different story) calling out Navy or their team culture after recent Army victories. However, there seemed to be a lot of that going on from Navy players after winning this year. It really stands in stark contrast to the idea — which is repeatedly mentioned EVERY year during the TV broadcast — that after this game, the players on the field will join one team and serve together.
We seem to have gotten away from that ideal on the football field; however, regardless of outcome, Army and Navy hockey players always stand side-by-side at least once a year to acknowledge the notion of one team, one fight. Hats off to Navy hockey for being classy.
Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his brothers. #ForMyBrothers #OneTeamOneFight #WinEveryBattle pic.twitter.com/2yDkkrAIrZ— Navy Hockey (@NavyHockey) December 13, 2021