Navy Tops Army, 31-17, For 9th Straight Win, Due To Game Changing Turnover

On Saturday, December 11, 2010, Navy defeated Army, 31-17, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Weather-wise, it was as pleasant a December afternoon, as anyone could remember, and fans basked in the balmy temperatures.

But the unexpectedly warm weather wasn’t enough to change Army’s fortunes in this most heated of collegiate rivalries, the oldest in the nation. The Midshipmen bested the Black Knights, again, for the ninth consecutive year. (And the 14-point margin was also the ninth straight year of beating Army by 12 points or more.)

The game pivoted on one of the most bizarre and unexpected plays in the 120 years of the Army-Navy rivalry.

Navy had scored the first 17 points, and appeared to be well on the way to yet another clobbering of the Cadets. Army didn’t even have a first down, before falling behind, 17-0, in the second quarter. But with 11:30 to play in the half, Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs fumbled on the first play after an Army punt. The Black Knights’ Josh McNary recovered the fumble, and Army took possession at the Navy 23.

After failing to obtain a first down on any of its first four possessions, the Black Knights managed to get two in a row. And benefiting from the short field, the Black Knights did something that they had not done since 2006 – namely, score a touchdown against Navy. They now trailed just 17-7, with 8:19 to play in the half.

On Navy’s third play from scrimmage, after the ensuing kickoff, Dobbs fumbled again, and Army’s Stephen Anderson recovered it at the Army 48. The Black Knights once more had good field position, with 7:20 to play in the half – plenty of time for the triple option offense to score.

Army’s offense began rolling, achieving four first downs, winding up with 1st-and-goal at the Navy 3, with less than two minutes to play. At worst, Army would settle for a chip shot field goal, and head into the locker room, down just 17-10. At best, the Army faithful would see a second touchdown, trailing just 17-14. And either way, there wouldn’t be enough time left for Navy to score after getting the ball back, before halftime.

Well, that was how it appeared to everyone at sold-out Lincoln Financial Field, including both teams. Then the play that will enter Army-Navy’s considerable lore, took place.

Army quarterback Trent Steelman lost the ball at the Navy 2, as Navy’s Tyler Simmons forced it out. While still airborne, the football settled in the arms of Navy safety Wyat Middleton, who raced 98 yards in the other direction. It was undoubtedly the longest defensive touchdown in the history of the rivalry.

Navy’s senior defensive captain had decisively altered the game in the Midshipmen’s favor. Instead of leading 17-14, or even 17-10, at halftime, the Midshipmen now led, 24-7. And it didn’t seem likely that Army had the offensive firepower, or the quick strike capability, to score at least 17 points in the second half.

The Black Knights hung in there, winning the third quarter 3-0 and still having a wisp of a chance to rally in the fourth quarter. But they didn’t. 24-10 was as close as Army could make it. The final score was Navy 31, Army 17.

Middleton received deserved accolades by the media, who selected him as the game’s Most Valuable Player. It was his second fumble recovery of the game, as he had also recovered an earlier fumble by Army running back Jared Hassin, on Army’s second play from scrimmage (which ironically, had also been forced by Simmons). That turnover led directly to the Midshipmen taking an early, 3-0 lead.

Army Navy Rivalry History, Updated to Include 2010

The 31-17 victory by Navy has now created these updated facts:

The teams have now met 111 times. Navy now leads the all-time series, 55-49-7.

It was the 83rd meeting in Philadelphia, and Navy now leads in Philadelphia games, 41-38-4. Army’s last victory in the series, 2001, was also its most recent in Philadelphia. It has never beaten Navy at Lincoln Financial Field, in the seven games that have been played in Philadelphia, since the new football stadium opened in 2003, replacing Veterans Stadium (now demolished).

The series shifts to FedEx Field in Washington, DC, for next season, unfortunately. But it returns to Philadelphia in both 2012 and 2013 (book your hotel rooms now!) The series will resume with the 112th meeting, on Saturday, December 11, 2011, in Landover, Maryland.

But fortunately, the Army-Navy Game will return to its rightful home, after that one-year hiatus, on Saturday, December 8, 2012, at Lincoln Financial Field, with the 113th meeting. The 114th meeting will also be in Philadelphia, on Saturday, December 14, 2013.

Navy has now won nine consecutive games – the longest winning streak by either team in the series.

It Wasn’t All Bleak, For the Black Knights

Some silver linings for the Black Knights:

Army scored two touchdowns, after failing to score a touchdown in 2007, 2008, and 2009. (Navy was trying to become the first team in series history to keep the other out of the end zone for four years, but did not succeed in doing so.)

Army’s 17 points were the most it had scored against Navy, since 2005, when Navy won, 42-23. (In fact, Army had scored only six points, total, from 2007 through 2009).

The 12-point margin was the closest the game had been since 2006, when Navy won 26-14.

The game was genuinely competitive. Had Army scored at the end of the first half, instead of giving up a defensive touchdown, the Black Knights would likely have been in the game all day.

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