What a great Saturday for fans of Army-Navy flag-football rivalry games.
People who know me, know that I generally watch flag football with one hand and hold my nose with the other; flag and football should never belong in the same sentence.
Saturday’s contest at Okinawa’s Torii Station came very close to making me a fan.
First, let’s go over the numbers. Behind scoring machine Aquil Garner, Army beat Navy at Yongsan Garrison 20-12 on Dec. 1, taking a 13-3 lead in the Peninsula Trophy series. On Saturday, it was Army over Navy in a defensive struggle 7-6 on a gorgeous mid-day at Camp Zama’s Trojans Field, giving the soldiers a 6-5 lead with their third straight win in the Commanders Cup series.
Sidebar to this: You think there won’t be talk of Yokosuka Naval Base sailors and Marines being called back in to help reinforce the Japan Naval contingent? Naval Air Facility Atsugi has gone winless since joining this fray in 2010.
Then, there was Saturday’s spine-tingler at Torii Field. The weather could have been a bit nicer; it was gusty, cloudy and the sky spit a little bit from time to time. And the crowd was down some, about 450 to 500 fans; normally, this game attracts between 800 and 1,000.
What the fans saw was no disappointment. Right from the jump, 18 seconds into the game, Daniel Rivera-Ramos ran 22 yards for an Army touchdown. The lead see-sawed back and forth from there. The game was tied twice and the lead changed hands no fewer than SIX times. Mike Frank threw three touchdown passes for Navy, Anthony Smith caught three for Army.
But it was special teams play, specifically a couple of kick blocks by Navy, that turned the worm.
Smith caught his second TD pass and it appeared Army had tied it … until Brian Weyer’s placement try flew into Navy’s interior line.
Same thing happened after Jeremy Howard caught Frank’s third TD pass and Cody Wells – who’d earlier hit two field goals – gave Navy the lead for good 34-33 with 4:30 left.
On Army’s last drive, Navy’s defense made three key stops and Weyer was forced to try a 43-yard field goal with 26.6 seconds left. Again, the kick flew into outstretched hands in the Navy interior.
Game. Set. Match. Navy wins for the second time in three years and cuts Army’s lead in the series to 17-6.
Aside from plenty of gridiron fireworks, plenty of pageantry and pomp ruled the day in all locales. Elements of the 296th Army Band from Camp Zama performed both at Torii and Zama. Youth and adult cheerleaders, decked out in Army green and Navy blue, dotted the sidelines and performed for appreciative crowds prior to and at halftime. Prizes and giveaways also dotted the day, with the $10,000 football throw at Torii perhaps being the biggest prize … and it went unclaimed again.
Sidebar to this: Torii Army MWR needs to bring back the Kris Kindle Flea Market, which generated quite a bit of sales and was a hugely convenient spot for folks to do some Christmas gift shopping as well as catch some football.