The Army-Navy game has been a staple of college football for over a century now, but the Army-Navy game of 2011, the 112th game between the two military schools, had particular significance on Saturday.
President Barack Obama was in attendance in the first Army-Navy game played near Washington, D.C., part of a series of observances Obama is making to mark the end of the Iraq war and salute service members. The month of December marks the full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, so Obama is drawing attention to this milestone by also meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki at the White House on Monday and visiting Fort Bragg in North Carolina on Wednesday, to thank returning soldiers.
The crowd showered Obama with loud applause when he was on the field for the coin toss, which Army won. After presiding over the toss, he sat on the Navy side for the first half and switched to Army's for the second.
Nevertheless, even with the commander in chief on their side, the Black Knights couldn't muster a win after being tied with the Midshipmen 14-14 at the half. In the tightest Army-Navy game in a decade, Navy won their 10th straight over Army, 27-21, after winning the previous nine games since 2002 against their rival by at least dozen points.
Strong rushing attacks and stout defenses by both teams kept the game close. However, three Army turnovers, a Navy fourth-quarter defensive stop on the fourth down, and a pair of fourth-quarter field goals from Navy kicker Jon Teague are what made the difference.
Navy quarterback Kriss Proctor and Army quarterback Trent Steelman only attempted a combined nine passes the whole game. In the first half, Proctor didn't throw a single pass and Steelman went one for two. Neverthless, Proctor made up for his nonexistent arm with his legs, rushing for a four-yard touchdown late in the first quarter after the Midshipmen recovered a Raymond Maples fumble that gave them a short field to work with. Navy's fullback Alexander Teich followed suit early in the second half by rushing for a 10-yard touchdown after Navy forced and recovered a Jared Hassin fumble. That score put Navy up 14-0.
The Black Knights then answered with back-to-back scoring drives of their own. They scored with 3:34 left in the first half after Steelman broke free on a 34-yard touchdown run. Steelman then led another Army scoring drive as the team went into a two-minute drill late in the half. That drill ended with a Malcom Brown five-yard run with just 0:49 seconds left. An extra point right after that tied the game at 14-14 at the end of the first half.
Teich opened the second half with his first kickoff return of the season, a 47-yarder. Proctor then gave Navy a 21-14 lead five plays later with a hard-fought two-yard run. Army responded again a few minutes later, tying the game once again when Steelman found Brown wide open for a 25-yard strike.
When the fourth quarter came, that's when penalties at the worst possible time emerged. Navy, which had committed only 26 penalties all season, the fewest in the nation, committed a false start on third-and-goal at the one-yard line, with the score tied. Navy had no choice but to settle for a Teague-kicked 23-yard field goal to take a 24-21 lead, with roughly 12 minutes left to play.
Moments later, Army's James Whittington fumbled the ensuing kickoff that gave Navy the ball at the Black Knights' 27-yard line. Just four plays later, Teague hit a 44-yard try that gave the Midshipmen a 27-21 lead with 10:26 to go, which left plenty of time for an Army comeback.
What happened next was nothing short of devastating for Army as they drove all the way to Navy's 25. Steelman was stopped on fourth-and-7 by linebacker Matt Warrick, who sacked the QB for a one-yard loss with 4:31 remaining.