Two years ago, Army wore special uniforms honoring the 82nd Airborne Division, and an Ahmad Bradshaw touchdown and first down sealed a win that ended a 14-year losing streak.
Last year, Army wore uniforms honoring the 10th Mountain Division and in a snowstorm held on for a victory that gave them their first Commander in Chief’s Trophy since 1996.
This year, we saw uniforms honoring the Big Red One – 1st Infantry Division – and Army dominated their way to a third consecutive Army/Navy game win for the first time since 1996, as well as the first time in the program’s history that they’ve won the CiC outright in consecutive seasons.
Of course, in true Army fashion, despite dominating for 90% of the game, they needed several bad mistakes from Navy to be able to pull this victory out.
The final nail in the coffin was when Navy, who was finally making some headway after switching from Zach Abey to Garrett Lewis under center, saw a wide receiver pass from OJ Davis to Lewis go incomplete, and the hit from Elijah Riley left Lewis on the ground for more than a few minutes.
As is standard, the injured Lewis had to leave the field for a play. This was less than ideal, as the Mids faced a fourth and 12, a rather obvious passing down, and Lewis’ 34-yard completion earlier in the second half was the only pass completion of the day for Navy.
This is where things got weird.
Rather than use one of the two timeouts he had left in order to stop the game and allow Lewis to get back into the game right away, head coach Ken Niumatalolo decided to put Zach Abey back into the game to run the fourth-down play. The pass rush got to Abey, got a strip-sack and recovered the fumble.
That wasn’t the end of the game, but it was definitely the end of Navy’s momentum.
I’m not saying that the play goes any differently with Lewis under center, but bringing Abey back was an odd choice when it wasn’t the only choice. He had been on the sidelines the entire fourth quarter to that point, in no small part due to the fact that two of his last three throws were way off target and intercepted.
If your choice is to take a timeout so the quarterback who has been developing some momentum can get back on the field, or sending the starter you benched for poor play back out after he’s been standing on the sidelines for an entire quarter – especially when you benched him for his awful passing and were facing an obvious passing down – is beyond me.
Obviously, the game was more than that moment. Army would have been up by more earlier if John Abercrombie didn’t miss his first field goal attempt of the season, or if Army hadn’t missed a wide-open touchdown on another drive.
Kelvin Hopkins finished the game four of nine, but at least three of those five incompletions were pure drops, and another was the deep touchdown pass that might have been complete if the intended receiver hadn’t bumped into his teammate on the crossing route.
This game was far from perfect, but Army once again found a way to win, leaning on a defense that generated turnovers (including forcing a Navy fumble in the red zone), and an offense that found rushing yards when necessary.
Jeff Monken is now 28-10 the last three seasons, and today became the first coach in the history of Army football to post back-to-back 10-win seasons. If Army can win their bowl game, Monken will tie Gar Davidson for 6th-most wins in program history, and he’ll tie Jim Young for most bowl wins.
Add into that Monken’s position as having taken over a program that had only won more than four games twice in 14 seasons when he arrived, his winning 28 games in three seasons, and needing only two years to get there, and you have arguably Army’s best coach since Red Blaik.
That was the last Army coach to post back-to-back-to-back 8+ win seasons, by the way.