It didn’t matter that Army’s defense kept Navy from doing much of anything Saturday for three quarters of the 119th game of a great college football rivalry. What mattered was that the Black Knights still had what it took in the fourth quarter when the Midshipmen mounted a comeback.
The Black Knights came up with two crucial turnovers in the final 15 minutes to blunt the Mids’ surge and come away with a 17-10 victory, their third consecutive win in the series, before a Lincoln Financial Field crowd of 66,729 that included President Donald Trump.
Junior quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. rushed for 64 yards and two touchdowns, but it was Army’s defense that carried the day. The unit held the Midshipmen to 127 rushing yards and claimed four turnovers – two interceptions and two fourth-quarter fumble recoveries.
As the cannons went off after Hopkins took a knee in victory formation on the final play, Army (10-2) had its eighth consecutive victory of the season and the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy, which it won outright in back-to-back seasons for the first time in academy history.
“I’ve had this question a lot about the Army-Navy game -- what makes it so different?” Army head coach Jeff Monken said. “It seems like every play, the whole outcome of the game, is hanging in the balance on that play. It was the same tonight. It was just that kind of game, that every single play, you’re hoping it goes your way.”
Enough plays went Army’s way, including Hopkins’ touchdown runs of 10 yards and 1 yard. But it was anything but easy.
After three quarters, the Black Knights held a 10-0 lead and a 252-64 advantage in total offense, and the Mids’ deepest penetration had been the Army 49. The Knights opened the fourth quarter with a fourth-and-2 from the Navy 43, seemingly heading to another score.
Hopkins ran for an apparent first down, but, after an official review, the ball was moved back a few feet and a measurement came up short. The Midshipmen took over, with Garrett Lewis relieving starter Zach Abey at quarterback.
Navy moved deep into the red zone, but Lewis fumbled and safety James Gibson recovered at the Army 3. On their next possession, the Mids began their drive from the Black Knights 48 and, set up by Malcolm Perry’s 43-yard run, scored on Lewis’ 1-yard sneak, making it 10-7 with 7 minutes, 10 seconds remaining.
However, on Navy’s next drive, with a fourth-and-12 from its 32 and Abey again at quarterback, linebacker Kenneth Brinson knocked the ball loose before Abey could throw, and recovered it at the 22, setting up the clinching touchdown by Hopkins.
The Mids got a 46-yard field goal from Bennett Moehring with 29 seconds left, but Army recovered an onside kick and celebrated.
“We played well the whole game, but they had a lot of tricks up their sleeve,” Army linebacker Cole Christiansen said. “A lot of things caught us toward the end of the game. But, similar to last year, when we needed to make big plays, we made big plays, and that was the difference in the game.”
The Black Knights scored on the game’s first possession when Hopkins, who was named the game’s most valuable player, went over from 10 yards out. They got a 33-yard field goal by John Abercrombie on their first drive of the second half. They had only one first down and 31 total yards in the fourth quarter, but had enough.
Navy (3-10) ended its season with its fewest wins in the 11-year tenure of head coach Ken Niumatalolo.
“It was hard for all of us,” he said. “I don’t want to make this about me. I’ve been coaching a long time, and these seniors are getting ready to join the fleet. Nobody likes to lose. It’s been hard, because our program has not been accustomed to what happened this year.”
In the other locker room, however, there was much joy, particularly from the seniors who won their last three games against Navy.
“It’s an experience unlike anything I’ve experienced in my entire life,” Brinson said. “It’s just so much sweeter doing something collectively with this team and with this brotherhood. At West Point, it’s just the most special thing in my life.”