December 10, 2011

Army falls short to Navy 'once again'

Army coach Rich Ellerson cut off the question with a quick shake of his head.

No, he doesn't feel any better about playing the Midshipmen down to the final minutes in a 27-21 defeat in the 112th Army-Navy game Saturday at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. No, he doesn't consider it closing the gap after recent lopsided losses.
 
"An inch is a mile," Ellerson said sharply. "We were competitive, but I felt that way last year (a 31-17 loss). We were competitive, but that's not the same as winning. The things that kept us from beating Navy were the same things that kept us from winning a number of other games this year."

He was referring largely to four Army fumbles, three of them recovered by Navy.

"We didn't need an out-of-body-experience to win this game," Ellerson said. "We needed better ball security and a better kicking game."

Navy capitalized on those fumbles and stopped Army on a fourth-and-7 at the Navy 25 late in the fourth quarter to beat the Black Knights for the 10th straight year in front of a sold out crowd of 80,789.
 

Army finished Ellerson's third season at West Point with a 3-9 record. Meanwhile, another Navy senior class went out with a sweep of Army and finished at 5-7 for the year.
 

Neither team is going bowling this year, which added to the intensity to their traditional rivalry as a season-ending game.

"Almost isn't good enough," said Army quarterback Trent Steelman, who as a junior will get another chance in 2012.
 
Steelman was playing on an injured ankle and knee, but he finished 12 carries for 62 yards rushing and 4 of 6 passing for 77 yards. He scored on a 34-yard run and completed a 25-yard TD pass to slotback Malcolm Brown.

But this was it for Army senior linebacker Steve Erzinger, who led the Black Knights with 11 tackles.
 
"Almost doesn't work," Erzinger said. "This is something I'm going to have to live with for the rest of my life. It's not a good feeling. But it was fun to compete against a quality opponent and go out against Navy in a venue like this - especially since we don't have a bowl game."

A 10th straight win over Army in a year the Midshipmen aren't going bowling was a relief to Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, who is now 4-0 against Army.

"This is a moment those guys can cherish for the rest of their lives," Niumatalolo said. "I wish we would have had a better season. I wish I would have done a better job of coaching."

The game was ultimately decided by the 14-0 lead Navy took in the second quarter with the help of two fumble recoveries.

Navy was actually the first team to turn the ball over when the the Midshipmen were driving for their first score. Quarterback Kriss Proctor fumbled and Black Knights' linebacker Nate Combs recovered at the Army 19.

But Army fumbled the ball right back three plays later on a pitch from Steelman to Raymond Maples that was mishandled. Navy's Jabaree Tuani pounced on the loose ball, giving him fumble recoveries this year against Navy's three biggest rivals - Air Force, Notre Dame and Army.

Navy scored six plays later on a Proctor's 4-yard run.

After the teams exchanged punts, Tuani forced a fumble by Jared Hassin at the Army 45.

Navy scored 7 plays later on a 10-yard run by Alexander Teich for a 14-0 lead with 7:05 left in the first half.

But Army didn't fold. The Black Knights responded with a scoring drive to trim the deficit to 14-7 with 3:34 left in the half. Steelman finished an 8-play, 67-yard drive with his 34-yard run around the right tackle.

After Army forced a punt, the Black Knights drove 7 plays and 63 yards for a 5-yard TD run by Malcolm Brown for a 14-14 tie with 49 seconds left in the half.

The game appeared to be as even as President Barack Obama switching sides from the Navy side to the Army side for the second half. He made a walk from sideline to sideline between a tunnel formed by Cadets and Midshipmen from the stands.

The teams traded third-quarter touchdowns with Navy taking the second-half kickoff for a 21-14 lead on Proctor's 2-yard run.
Army took the ensuing kickoff and drove for a tying score on Steelman's 25-yard pass to Brown.

But in the fourth quarter, Navy drove for a field goal and 24-21 lead with 12:03 to play and then forced Scott Williams to fumble the ensuing kickoff.

Army's defense held Navy to a 44-yard field goal by Teague to keep it a one-score game with 10:26 to play, but the offense came up short of a game-winning TD drive.
 
Army drove to Navy's 25-yard line when Ellerson called for a running play rather than what would have been a 42-yard field goal.
 
"We have a bunch of 7-yards plays in us," Ellerson said. "I felt if we got them stopped, we had our timeouts, and we could get another possession. In hindsight, I'll kick it. If you kick it and miss it you're in the same boat. If you do make it, you almost have to try and onside kick. I felt we've got 7 yards in us."
 
The Black Knights did subsequently hold Navy to a fourth-and-1 at the Navy 48 with a chance to get the ball back, but Army jumped offsides to give Navy a first down. Navy was then able to run the clock down 8 second before punting.

"We felt we were the better team today, but the slow start threw us off track," Steelman said. "After that, we played as well as we have all year. We were clicking on both sides of the ball. It's tough to swallow."

Notables: Sophomore slotback Raymond Maples' 82 yards on the day brought his season total to 1,066. This was the 15th time that an Army player hit the 1,000 yard mark.

For second straight year, slotback Malcolm Brown hit paydirt twice in a game versus the Midshipmen.

Captain & linebacker Steve Erzinger registered a team high 11 tackles on the day and finished the season with 103 tackles, which lead the Black Knights.

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