MetLife Stadium—Every time these service academies get together, you know the game is going to down to the wire with fireworks.
Navy beat archrival Army 17-13 on Saturday despite mistakenly attempting a fake punt deep in its own territory in the fourth quarter in a game played at the Meadowlands to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Diego Fagot took the snap from his up back position and rushed 4 yards to give the Midshipmen a first down at their 38. They had to settled a field goal on that drive to take a four-point lead. Navy sealed the win by stopping Army quarterback Christian Anderson on fourth down with 1:27 remaining on the clock.
Midshipmen Quarterback Tai Lavatai led offense, scoring both Navy touchdowns and rushing for a team-high 62 yards. He also completed four passes for 82 yards.
Navy’s defense limit Army to 57 second-half yards and a season-low 232 overall, that was the difference in the ball game.
The victory made the season for the Midshipmen (4-8), which faced 11 bowl-bound teams, tops in the nation. It also gave Navy only their second win in the last six games with their biggest rival, and they let the Black Knights that they were the better program for the day.
“We’ve faced a lot of adversity this year and guys keep consistently coming back and battling and not giving up,” senior linebacker Diego Fagot said. “Regardless of the score, we’re going to keep playing as hard as we can. We pride ourselves on that. I mean, I can’t say enough about how they think they’re the last of the hard. But it’s just not the case. They’re our little brothers.”
Anderson jump started Army offense early. He scored a rushing touchdown and led the offense to a field goal on the Black Knights’ first two drives of the game. But they struggled against Navy’s defense in the second half. He completed just two passes, both in the fourth, before turning the ball over on downs. Anderson finished the game with 7-of-15 passing for 108 yards.
The Midshipmen (4-8) won’t be competing in a bowl game this season, but it ended the year with a victory over its oldest rival. Army (8-4) will have a short rest before it plays Missouri in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 22.
Navy made some adjustments on defense in the second half and dominated Army (8-4) after giving up an early touchdown. It outgained them 278 yards to 232, including 196-124 on the ground against the nation’s No. 2 rushing offense. Navy held the ball for 34:25 and converted three big plays, including a fourth-down, fake punt in the fourth quarter that wasn’t supposed to be a fake punt.
“It is good to be lucky,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said of the 4-yard, first-down run by Fagot that set up Bijan Nichols’ 43-yard field goal and kept alive a nearly nine-minute drive.
Fagot made a line call because Army overloaded one side. Freshman center Ethan Nguyen mistook it for a fake call and Fagot got the first down despite being hit in the facemask with the snap.
“I mean, as a linebacker, you kind of already have tunnel vision, so I wasn’t really expecting it,” Fagot said. “So when I caught it, I just, I just started running straight.”
It worked out for the Midshipmen.
“Honestly, it came down to that last one,” said Anderson, who scored on a 56-yard run on the fourth play from scrimmage. “I feel like we were moving the ball pretty OK. Then we got to the fourth down. I’ve just got to be able to make that run and get that conversion.”
Navy ran out the clock and then celebrated.
“Obviously, it’s something we dream of,” Navy senior center Pierce Banbury said. “That is the reason I came to the Academy, to have that feeling. Right now, I am speechless.”
Cole Talley chipped in field goals of 31 and 32 yards in helping Army take a 13-7 lead at the break. After that, the Black Knights couldn’t generate any offense in the second half.
“They beat blocks, they just destroyed blocks,” Army coach Jeff Monken said. “They just did a much better job defending us than we did attacking them on offense. We tried different things and none of them worked. We just got outplayed.”
The Midshipmen took over in the second half, taking the kickoff and going 74 yards in 10 plays with Lavatai scoring from 2-yards out. The drive spearheaded by a 26-yard sprint by Chance Warren on fourth-and-4 that got the ball to the 2 yard line. It was supposed to be a pass to Lavatai, but Warren took in himself.
“We were going to come out swinging,” Niumatalolo said. “We have been hearing a lot of stuff that the tables have turned and they were on top. We have never felt that. I think they are a very good football team. But our schedule is tough and that is by design.”