Navy fans had no words. Army fans made up for it.
The West Point contingent at sold-out M&T Bank Stadium – officers, enlisted, cadets, veterans, civilians – all but exploded Saturday evening in Baltimore when the clock finally ran out on 14 years of rivalry frustration.
The 21-17 win was the first by the Black Knights since 2001. It was the first by third-year head coach Jeff Monken, who kept his offense on the field for two critical fourth-down conversions. It was the first for sophomore Andy Davidson, who scored two first-half touchdowns to cap two punishing drives with 1-yard touchdown plunges.
Sophomore quarterback Zach Abey, making his first start for the Mids, stumbled mightily out of the gate, throwing an interception on his first pass of the game and on his last of the half. He would recover to lead a comeback, and the Army passing attack would never materialize, but there were no last-minute heroics.
The 14-0 deficit had the Army crowd in full voice at the half, but Navy all but silenced them in the third quarter, after sophomore defender Sean Williams recovered an Ahmad Bradshaw fumble and Abey led a six-play scoring drive by example, rushing on four plays and completing a 16-yard pass to Shawn White. The quarterback's 1-yard scoring run and point-after cut the lead in half.
Navy's defense finally clogged the Army run attack on the next possession. A Bennett Moehring field goal made it 14-10. Another Army fumble, also recovered by Williams, ended the next drive. The teams traded punts, and after a first half dominated by long drives, Navy took its first lead of the game on a two-play, 53-second burst: Abey hit Jamir Tillman for 12 yards and a first down, then the sophomore took matters into his own hands, dodging defenders and his own blockers on a 41-yard scoring scamper.
Army appeared to have a first down at the Navy 18-yard-line, but a review changed the spot and Monken, who gambled and won on a fourth-down call in the first half, did the same again, with Davidson plunging to the 11.
He carried again to push the ball to the 9, then Bradshaw kept the ball on an option around the right side, edging into the end zone and sending the Army faithful into a frenzy.
The extra point made it 21-17 with exactly six minutes to play. Navy's offense faltered, leading to a punt around the 4:15 mark.
With 1:46 to play, a Bradshaw run netted a first down, and triggered the celebration.
Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.