YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea – It was hardly the blowout victory the soldiers enjoyed 364 days earlier, but Aquil Garner and Army had enough in the tank Saturday to survive a tenacious combined Navy-Marine Corps squad 20-12 at Seoul American High School’s Sims Field.
“The team struggled at first,” Army coach Marcus McNair said, adding that he and his players knew Navy intended to play tough against the soldiers on a freezing morning. “The team came together in the end. I’m proud for the Army team for the effort that it put in today.”
It was a far cry from the soldiers’ one-sided romp last Dec. 3, 30-0 over the sailors and Marines.
The Army-Navy flag football game is played annually in Korea the first Saturday of December and second Saturday in Okinawa and Japan to mirror the annual service-academy football rivalry game in the States. Next week’s Japan game is at Zama American High School and the Okinawa game at Torii Station.
Saturday’s victory at Yongsan was the fourth straight in the Peninsula Trophy series for Army and 13th win in 16 clashes overall. Army holds a comfortable 36-13 overall Pacific lead in a series that originated 23 years ago at Okinawa’s Torii Station.
Running back-linebacker Garner rose as the game’s biggest star, scoring all three touchdowns for Army. “The game was hard fought,” he said. “The team put in a lot of effort and enthusiasm. We pulled it together early on. The coach called the right plays and the players executed.”
For the vanquished, the loss proved bittersweet after the Navy-Marines came close to tying the game in the closing moments.
“We were one play away from turning the game around,” coach Andre Peterson said, adding that a couple of calls that didn’t go their way hurt. “I felt like the team gave it all.”
Navy, which had primarily been comprised of Naval Forces Korea sailors at Yongsan, changed its technique during this year’s tryouts, choosing to suit up sailors and Marines from Naval Base Chinhae and Pusan port. The idea was to make the team strong now and in future years.
“This year was a change of standard,” Peterson said. “We had all-new tryouts, we were better organized. … So, we had a better output, which showed on the field.”
“This team was much more cohesive,” said Brian Lewis, Navy’s center who played in the game last year. “It was awfully close. If we had another 10 seconds on the clock, we could’ve taken it to overtime, I think.”
Even in defeat, the sailors and Marines seemed upbeat. And each side said it recognized that while rivals on the field, the sailors, Marines and soldiers are comrades in arms off the field.
“I thought everybody played their heart out,” Navy defensive lineman Chad Gagnon said. “Navy shared its camaraderie with our Marine Corps brothers. The rivalry runs deep with the Army and it was fun to play against them.”