Navy fumble sets up Army win in series’ first OT game
PHILADELPHIA — Navy running back Anton Hall Jr. collapsed to the ground and buried his face in his hands. West Point cadets spilled from the stands onto the field and joined Army players who ripped off their helmets and ran around in celebration.
Hall’s push toward the end zone in the second overtime — and first OT game in Army-Navy history — resulted in a fumble that Army recovered. The Black Knights went from potentially playing for a tie to simply playing for a winning score.
“Somehow, the ball got loose and we hit that thing when we needed to,” Army coach Jeff Monken said.
Quinn Maretzki kicked the game-winning 39-yard field goal after he had sent the game into overtime with a 37-yarder late in the fourth quarter and led Army past The Midshipmen 20-17 on Saturday in the first OT game in the 123 matchups of “America’s Game.”
“It’s obviously a big moment, but I try my best to put that aside,” Maretzki said. “Just being able to block everything out, [my teammates] just made that job so easy for me. So I just had to go out there and not even really think.”
Hall — who earlier raced 77 yards for a TD and 10-7 lead — coughed up the ball as he plunged toward the end zone and stood crestfallen as Maretzki prepared to kick the winner. 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 quarterback 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 stomach to 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.”
The offense was stagnant throughout the game until the waning moments of regulation when Maretzki kicked the 37-yarder with 1:53 left to tie it at 10-all.
A thrilling overtime followed.
The NCAA instituted overtime in 1996, and the series had never had to go a little extra to settle one of the sport’s greatest rivalry games.
Army’s Markel Johnson ran 25 yards for a touchdown on the first play of overtime for a 17-10 lead, and Navy matched the Black Knights when Arline tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Maquel Haywood that made it 17-all.
It was Navy’s first completion of the game and Arline had perhaps the sweetest 1-of-1-for-25-yards game in Navy history. He also rushed for 102 yards.
Navy still leads the series against Army 62-54-7. The Black Knights, though, have won five of the past seven meetings.
Army finished 6-6; Navy was 4-8.
“This team never stopped 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.”
The teams combined for only 53 yards passing.
One of Cade Ballard’s rare passing attempts for Army was a success when a pass interference call brought the ball down to the 28 with four minutes left on a drive that set up Maretzki’s tying field goal.
Ballard was 2-of-10 passing for 28 yards.
Hall’s run up the middle in the third quarter was the biggest burst of offense of the game for either team — at that point, that run alone had outgained Army’s 69 total yards.
His run was a double gut punch to the Black Knights after quarterback Tyhier Tyler had a 40-yard touchdown run wiped out on a penalty on the previous possession.
Hall provided one of the few highlights in a game full of wobbly punts, errant throws and a dearth of first downs.
The first spark came in the final seconds of the first half when Army’s Noah Short blocked Riley Riethman’s punt and Jabril Williams recovered — after almost knocking the ball out of the end zone — for the touchdown and a 7-3 lead.
That bit of excitement in front of a packed house of 69,117 at Lincoln Financial Field just about made up for 29 minutes of two offenses that could not move the ball downfield.
The first half ended with 0 passing yards. From both teams. Zero.
That stat of futility wasn’t necessarily uncommon for either program. Navy won two games this season without completing a pass, and Army threw for 852 yards passing — this season. That’s about 2½ games of yardage on the same field for Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts.
With points at a premium, Navy sent out Bijan Nichols for a long field goal, and his 44-yarder hugged the inside of the right goal post for a 3-0 lead in the second quarter.
Army finished the half 0-for-5 passing, failed to convert on five of six third downs and had 33 total yards in the half.
This game is rarely about quality football anyway and more about the pageantry and revelry of cadets and midshipmen standing, bouncing and cheering for their branch. The hours before kickoff were highlighted by the Army Corps of Cadets and the Brigade of Midshipmen march onto the field. The Navy Leap Frogs parachute team earned a roar from the crowd with each safe landing on the field. Mark Wahlberg even made an appearance and leaped into a crowd of midshipmen and then received an award for his work with the military.