TORII STATION, Okinawa – Special teams, a sometimes overlooked aspect of football, saved the day for Navy against Army as Pacific flag football’s rivalry week ended Saturday with soldiers securing a 2-1 edge over sailors.
Navy blocked an extra-point attempt and a field-goal try late in the fourth quarter, preserving enough of a margin for the sailors to edge Army 34-33, Navy’s second victory in three years in the Okinawa Commanders Trophy series.
“Special teams made the game what it was today,” Navy coach Kevin Davis said.
“It comes down to a game of inches,” quarterback Mike Frank said, adding that defense and special teams “stepped up on that last drive and pulled it out for us.”
It was a back-and-forth battle, with Frank throwing three touchdown passes and Anthony Smith of Army catching three. The lead changed hands six times and the outcome remained in doubt until Brian Weyer’s 43-yard field-goal try with 26 seconds left was blocked by Navy’s interior.
But it wasn’t enough to keep Army from winning the week. Seven days after soldiers beat Navy 20-12 at Korea’s Yongsan Garrison, Army edged Navy 7-6 in a defensive struggle at Camp Zama, seizing a 6-5 edge with its third straight win in the Commanders Cup series. Army leads the series overall 37-14.
At all locales, plenty of pomp and pageantry was on display, featuring Army bands, youth cheerleaders, commanding officers doing ceremonial coin and first-ball tosses, even bonfires on the eve of the game to mirror what the service academies do back home.
There were even some college-type pranks prior to Saturday’s Okinawa contest. Torii’s 10th Area Support Group commander Col. Sheila Bryant came home Friday to find a boat and a sailor mannequin on her lawn and an anchor in her drive “so I couldn’t park,” she said.
“We put him to bed with the Army song,” Bryant said of how Army responded in kind for the benefit of Navy Capt. Richard “Stormy” Weathers, Naval Forces Okinawa’s commanding officer.
“They served me notice,” Weathers said. In addition to being serenaded with “The Army Goes Rolling Along,” Weathers and his wife Andrea were awakened at 6 a.m. sharp with a crisp trumpet playing of reveille.
“Army-Navy goes back more than 100 years,” Weathers said. “We’re one team, one fight when it’s said and done, but on the field, there’s only one enemy.”
“At the end of the day, it’s about the camaraderie, but we also want to win,” Bryant said.
It was not to be on this day for Torii soldiers, who watched as a throng of Navy supporters spilled onto their home field field and carried Weathers on their shoulders on a chilly, windy afternoon with spot showers.
Rain was hardly a bother at Camp Zama’s Trojans Field, bathed by sunshine, unseasonably pleasant temperatures but a bit windy.
The game was played before a crowd of some 300, including Naval Air Facility Atsugi commanding officer Capt. Steven J. Wieman and U.S. Army Garrison Zama commander Col. Eric D. Tilley.
The flag games are staged each year to mirror the service academy rivalry battles in the States.