BY ROCK HOFFMAN
COLLEGE FOOTBALL EDITOR
Philadelphia – After Navy beat Army 31-7 in the 120th renewal of America’s Game, Navy senior quarterback Malcolm Perry spoke of having a quiet determination to win the game for the first time as a player and break a three-game losing streak to the Black Knights. If Perry and his teammates determination was quiet their play on the field was anything but.
Perry ran for 304 yards – an Army-Navy game record - and two touchdowns while fullback Jamale Carothers added two touchdowns – one running and one receiving on the only pass his team threw all games. The Midshipmen’s defense held Army to 148 yards total offense.
“There wasn’t much jumping around and screaming like there normally is,” said Perry on the pregame atmosphere. “It was very quiet and focused. Everyone wanted this game bad and it showed. That’s how I try to approach the game, don’t let the highs get too high or the lows get too low. I think the team adopted that mindset and used it today.”
For Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo, it was his ninth win over the Black Knights making him the winningest coach is the history of the game. He said the team has been building toward this win all year.
“This didn’t happen today,” said Niumatalolo, who is the Naval Academy’s leader in career wins with 97. “This happened back in January. The senior leadership committed to be successful. Last year, was the first time I thought they were better as a team and these seniors addressed that. There were some things we needed to address culturally and they did that themselves. They changed the locker room and they changed the culture.”
Initially, it didn’t look like much had changed from last year’s game, after the teams traded punts, the Black Knights (5-8) matriculated the ball down the field on an 18-play, 78-yard drive that took nearly 11 minutes. Christian Anderson ran in from five yards for the score. Army converted four third downs (including the touchdown play) and a fourth down on the drive. For the rest of the game, they would run just 32 plays from scrimmage and get only four more first downs.
“They were doing a few different things,” said Navy linebacker Paul Carothers of the Army offense. “We had to make some checks and make sure to adjust. We did and it shows.”
“Once we got to the sideline, after that score,” echoed fellow linebacker Nizaire Cromartie, “that was the reality check that we couldn’t let them do that anymore.”
Perry quickly made the Black Knights epic drive less meaningful when he raced 55 yards to tie the score on the third play of the second quarter.
Right before the half, Navy (10-2) capped a 91-yard drive when they ran the Philly Special with Jamale Carothers on the receiving end of a one-yard pass from Chance Warren.
“I wanted to make sure that I was in bounds and make a play on the ball,” said the fullback, who finished with 75 yards on the ground.
The Midshipmen tried to add to their lead on the first series after halftime but Army’s Elijah Riley blocked a 29-yard field goal try by Bijan Nichols. However, the Black Knights got no lift from the special teams play, they went three-and-out after two penalties and a sack.
With their second possession of the third quarter, Navy did score when Carothers bulled his way in from the five-yard line to make it 21-7.
Early in the fourth quarter, Nichols connected on a 37-yard field and late, Perry scored on a 15-yard run to cap the scoring and ensure that the Commander-in-Chief Trophy would be going back to Annapolis.
“I remember this day a year ago,” said Navy offensive lineman Ford Higgins. “We got together, as a senior class, knowing that we had one more opportunity and have been counting down to this day. It’s super special. It feels great to finally get one.”
While the Midshipmen celebrated and got to sing their alma mater second, the Black Knights could only resolve to do their best to win in 2020.
“Try not to ever let it happen again,” were the words from Army head coach Jeff Monken. “I don’t like feeling this way, I don’t think they like feeling this way. Nobody does. There are few things like this in life where you’re able to pour so much into something with other people and have a chance to accomplish things together as a team or a unit, that makes the accomplishment so much more valuable. Because you have so many people counting on you when you fall short of your goal it just disappoints you that much more.”
Of course, some players won’t get the chance to try again next year, they’ll graduate and be off defending our country.
“We were very emotional,” said Riley, a senior cornerback. “You never want to end the season with a loss. Especially, with the season we had this year, not getting the opportunity to play in a bowl game. This was our Super Bowl and we didn’t win so emotions were high. This was the last time the 2019 team is going to be together. Seniors, for many of us, this is the last time playing college football, so it’s very heartbreaking.”
Navy leads the all-time series 61-52-7
Email Rock Hoffman at firstname.lastname@example.org