Monday, May 20, 2024

Quick Thoughts: Army Stuffs Navy, Wins the CIC Trophy

Well friends, that was amazing. The only thing better than seeing Army win the Army-Navy Game is seeing Army win the Army-Navy Game live and in person. We got an absolutely perfect day up in Boston, got to see a bunch of our old friends, and I got to see my first in-person win in this rivalry since 1994.

All of that was truly spectacular.

I gotta say that the game itself went more-or-less how I expected it to go. Army ran the ball better than we’ve seen them run it against Navy since now-Head Coach Brian Newberry became their Defensive Coordinator. The Black Knights also stopped Navy from running the ball, which allowed Army to both control the clock and create multiple turnovers. Those turnovers ultimately proved the difference and won them the game.

In the back of my mind, I’d kind of thought we might see three turnovers, including a pick-six. In reality, we got two turnovers, including a fumble-six, and it was the decisive play of the game. But both turnovers led to points. 

I also kind of thought we’d see a defensive player named Game MVP. In fact, I’d guessed before the game that it might be firstie S Quindrelin Hammonds because, as I said, I thought we might see a pick-six. But yearling LB Kalib Fortner forced the fumble-six and made a bunch more defensive plays besides that, and so he became That Guy.

It must be said, too, that this game showed the difference between Navy and Air Force. Both teams got punched in the mouth towards the start of their respective games. 

Air Force fell over and died. Navy got back up and made a game of it.

At the Tailgate for Freedom, 2023
Me, my wife, Sally, and my classmates Amber, and Fran

If you’re wondering, Sally and I stayed with some of her friends up in Braintree, Massachusetts. We took the train to the game yesterday morning, arriving to the stadium around 11:00 am. From there, we hiked all the way up to Lot 42A, where my friend Jim threw a monstrous tailgate outside a black and gold, “Go Army!” mini-RV. They had that thing catered with Chick-Fil-A, and had an official beer sponsor. 

It was amazing.

Sally and I then walked down to the stadium around 2:00 pm, and everything probably would’ve been fine, if maybe a little hazy through the first half. But then we sat down next to my friends Matt and Amber. Matt opened his coat, pulled out a brace of Fireball nips, and I had a moment of deja vu for our cadet days back at Michie Stadium. Or maybe for the Army-Navy Game back in 1993. Regardless, I had to rewatch the second half of the game when we got back to Braintree last night. I somehow couldn’t quite put together why things happened in what became an awesome but truly wild finish.

As I said in the open, I felt like Army’s offense played really well yesterday. They rushed for 205 yards on 4.4 yards/carry, which is excellent in a service academy rivalry game. RB Kanye Udoh led the team, taking just 13 carries for 88 yards (6.8 yards/carry!). QB Bryson Daily added 27 carries for 84 yards (3.1 yards/carry) and went 7/14 passing for 54 yards and a touchdown. The Black Knights didn’t throw too much, and that was good. However, they still left a couple of passes on the field. There was one in particular where Daily dropped it right in the bucket to a receiver who had a step on his man. It slipped through the receiver’s fingers, and…  

Well, these are the kinds of plays that Army is going to need to make in the future if they ever want to win by more than a single score in a wild finish.

To be clear, I’ll take the wild finish as long as it comes with a win.

By comparison, Navy only really had two things working for them yesterday, and though they made both work repeatedly, it’s still amazing that they had even a remote chance at the end of the game. 

First, the Squids had a distinct punting advantage. Navy P Riley Riethman averaged 43.2 yards/punt. With that, the Mids flipped the field repeatedly despite their offense going three-and-out consistently throughout the first three-plus quarters of the game. 

Navy’s other advantage came from their receivers. Senior WR Jayden Umbarger and sophomore RB Eli Heidenreich caught pretty much everything that was thrown anywhere near them. Army spent much of the last five minutes in their standard bend-but-don’t-break defense, letting Umbarger in particular catch quick outs in exactly the manner that drives Army fans crazy. I get why the Black Knights did that, but then they also let Heidenreich sneak out of the backfield to make catches plenty of times, and on Navy’s touchdown, they somehow left Umbarger alone in the middle of the field!

So okay. The fact that they forced Navy to throw that much was a win on principle, and more to the point, I don’t think anyone expected that the Mids were going to win that game through the air. Speaking personally, I never for one instant thought Navy would tie that game. 

But maybe that was the Fireball.

Regardless, Army out-physicaled the Mids, and that’s why they won. That was true at the line of scrimmage throughout the game, and it was true on 4th-and-goal at the end of the game. I still don’t understand why the game didn’t end on that final goal line play when the clock should’ve expired, but whatever. A win is a win.

Final thought: that punt totally hit that kid’s leg. He knew it, Army knew it, and replay clearly showed it. We also saw several times in that last drive where officials stopped the clock for reasons outside of my understanding of football. I mean, I know that Navy needed to hurry up, but did Army have an obligation to help them?

I don’t think so.

Bottom line, it was all a little closer than it had to be. But Army had the — much — better team, and they played better, more consistent football, and that’s why they won. All of that was excellent and fun as Hell from the stands.

Looking Forward

Army will take the Shotgun-Option into the American Conference next year. QB Bryson Daily returns, as does C Brady Smalls, RB Kanye Udoh, WR Casey Reynolds, TE David Crossan, and RB Markel Johnson just to name a few. The Black Knights will need to find some new starters to play next to Smalls on the O-Line, but they undoubtedly already have at least an oversized handful of linemen who’ve played meaningful snaps this season. On defense, we’ll see more of Fortner, plus S Max DiDomenico and LB Spencer Jones. But the Black Knights will lose most of their secondary to graduation alongside most of their starting linebackers, too. 

They’ll have some work to do with their back seven this offseason.

Army opens with a game against Lehigh at Michie Stadium, and rumor has it that they’ll break ground on the East Stands Renovation soon, too. 

Until then, friends, it’s been my pleasure watching Army Football with you. It’s liable to be a long eight months until the season restarts at the end of the summer.

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