It took overtime to decide the Army-Navy game for the first time in the 123-year history of the classic rivalry.
In the end, Army survived 20-17 in double OT at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
The Black Knights recovered an Anton Hall Jr. fumble just short of the goal line in the second overtime. Quinn Maretzki kicked a 39-yard field goal to clinch the win.
“Somehow, the ball got loose, and we hit that thing when we needed to,” Army coach Jeff Monken said.
Hall dropped to the ground as the kick sailed through the uprights, and he was consoled by teammate Amin Hassan. But the fullback’s fumble forced by Austin Hill and recovered by defensive lineman Nate Smith will forever be etched on the highlight reel of game-changing plays in the series.
“The game is not lost with him. That could happen to anyone that was carrying the ball on that one play,” Navy QB Xavier Arline said. “They made a good play. That’s football. That’s life. The game was not lost within that one play.”
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo stood hunched on the sideline and could not watch the final field goal.
“What do you tell them when you get your heart broken,” Niumatalolo said. “We were in the driver’s seat. We were feeling pretty good. Unfortunately, the game slipped out of our hands.”
It was a classic struggle between the historic rivals, if not a work of art. But there were a handful of big plays, particularly in overtime.
On the first play of the first OT, Army’s Markel Johnson sprinted 25 yards for a touchdown.
On the second play of the first OT, Navy’s Arline found Maquel Haywood for a 25-yard touchdown pass, Arline’s first completion of the game.
During regulation it was back and forth.
Navy led 3-0 until late in the first half. But then, it looked as if Army might have taken control of the game with a special teams stunner.
The Midshipmen set up to punt at their 31 with just 1:16 to go in the second quarter, and Army made the biggest play of the half. Defensive back Noah Short switched from one side to the other in the backfield before the snap, then came streaking through, untouched, to block Riley Riethman’s punt. The ball skidded into the end zone where it was recovered, then dropped and recovered again inches from the end line, by Nathaniel Smith.
All of a sudden Army, which had done nothing offensively in the first half — 33 total yards and one first down — led 7-3.
Navy regained the lead with just over four minutes left in the third quarter when Hall broke free for a 77-yard touchdown run.
Hall’s run followed a mini-Army meltdown: A block in the back nullified a touchdown, a couple of false-start penalties and a mishandled snap moved the Black Knights from the Navy 21 back to their own 46. Instead of a touchdown and a 14-3 lead, Army punted. Navy took advantage.
Neither team delivered much on offense: Navy tallied 286 total yards; Army gained only 153. The teams combined for only 53 yards passing.
“This team never stopping fighting, they never stopped believing,” Monken said. “Somehow, some way, we found a way to get it done tonight. It was an epic battle. It was one I’ll remember for a long time, probably forever.”
Navy still leads the series 62-54-7.
Navy will wrap up a third straight losing season (4-8) under Niumatalolo, and — even worse — has lost five of the last seven games against Monken and the Black Knights (6-6).
The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy awarded to the winner of the three games played among Army, Navy and Air Force hasn’t been docked in Annapolis since 2019.
Air Force (9-3) claimed this year’s CIC trophy. The Falcons beat Navy 13-10 on Oct. 1 and Army 13-7 on Nov. 5.
The series, though synonymous with Philadelphia, is hitting the road starting with next season’s game in Foxboro, Mass. The 2024 game is at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.; 2025 is at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore; and 2026 is at MetLife Stadium, the New Jersey home of the Jets and Giants just west of New York City. The game returns to Philly in 2027.
Contributing: Associated Press; Tribune News Service.