IT HAD BEEN 10 years since the Army Black Knights had beaten the Navy Midshipmen in "America's Game." Which makes the 11th straight loss, a 17-13 heartbreaker on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, that much tougher to swallow.
Army marched down the field for 70 yards with 4 1/2 minutes to play, only to have a bad handoff between quarterback Trent Steelman and fullback Larry Dixon fall in the hands of Navy's Barry Dabney to end the hopes of breaking the losing streak.
"It was routine triple option for us," Steelman said. "Honestly, I don't really know what happened. It was a quarterback-fullback mesh but I'm running out of here so I'm going to put that one on me; there's no way I could put something like that on Larry.
"We were wearing them down, there was nothing else that was going to stop us and . . . that's life, things don't go your way sometimes. Just got to be able to turn it around."
While Army felt the sting of another hard-fought loss, following a 27-21 win by the Mids last year in Baltimore, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo believed that this game was reminiscent of their season.
"I tip my hat to coach [Rich] Ellerson and Army, those guys played tough," Niumatalolo said. "Very happy, proud of our young men, they stayed resilient. To me, that game's indicative of the season. Things didn't start off so good in Dublin [losing to Notre Dame], things didn't go too well in Happy Valley, either. But they have just continued to fight.
The Black Knights (2-10) kept the Midshipmen (8-4) at bay, holding onto a 13-10 lead for most of the fourth quarter before Navy quarterback and game MVP Keenan Reynolds rushed for an 8-yard touchdown. The lead was the latest the Black Knights held since 2001, when Army last beat Navy, 26-17, at Veterans Stadium.
For Steelman, a 4-year starter at Army, it was an emotional game and an emotional loss. Ellerson feels for his quarterback, but knows that, with time, he'll be better for it.
"We've talked about Trent's career a lot," Ellerson said. "He's done all kinds of great stuff. This is unfortunate because this doesn't correlate with what he's accomplished here. He's a great competitor and an accomplished player. He deserves to feel better on the last day, but when it all gets into perspective it'll be OK."
Steelman ends with Army's career records for rushing attempts (773), rushing yards (3,323), rushing touchdowns (45) and points scored (272).
For Army, it was trying to wipe away 11 years of losses to the rival Midshipmen. For Raymond Maples, it was a homecoming that was slightly soured by the loss.
The junior running back from West Catholic High made a big impact in a game that was decided in the final minutes. Maples accounted for 153 of the Black Knights' 370 rushing yards and added a 4-yard reception in the second quarter.