Five was the number of minutes Army held possession of the football in the second quarter.
Four was the number of times both the Knights and the Navy Midshipmen converted on third down (out of 17).
Two was the number of yards Army’s offense averaged per play.
But only one team was left standing when the dust settled Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
Even Army head coach Jeff Monken isn’t entirely sure how his team pulled off the 20-17 comeback win.
“I still don’t know how we won,” proclaimed Monken after the victory. “But our guys just found a way. They just found a way.”
Numerically, statistically, astrologically the Knights’ win makes zero sense. Perhaps we should just call it divine intervention from the Iron Soldiers themselves. After all, the Army players embodied their fallen brothers in the form of a gritty late fourth-quarter push as well as a resilient overtime stand.
“I think today, it’s just fighting to the last play and that’s what we did and I think that’s what that unit is about,” said quarterback Cade Ballard. “And going out the way we did today I think it is poetic justice the way it ended.”
Navy had the upper hand most of the game, save for that one time in the second quarter when Army defensive back Noah Short’s hand went just a little bit higher, resulting in a blocked punt and subsequent touchdown, recovered by cornerback Jabril Williams. Navy Fullback Anton Hall finally got loose in the third quarter, breaking off a 77-yard touchdown run to put the Midshipmen up 10-7 with 4:09 left in the quarter. But a 37-yard field goal from Army kicker Quinn Maretzki sent the game to overtime, a voyage from which Navy would never return.
“They couldn’t do anything in the first half,” said Niumatalolo. “We had some opportunities to get some points early on that we didn’t get. You are feeling in pretty good shape in the second overtime. We got the ball, were down there in scoring position, we were giving it to Anton (Hall) who was running well. Had that long run. Love the kid but that turnover was huge. When you look at the stats, it just goes to show you that none of the stats matter except the final score.”
Navy was foiled by the very hands that fed them early on – Hall fumbled on the Army one-yard line during a third-and-goal, no-huddle shotgun play. Army defensive lineman Austin Hill was credited with the forced fumble while the ball was ruggedly recovered by fellow defensive lineman Darius Richardson. And the rest is history, literally.
“To be able to have that grit and that toughness and that belief as leaders; soldiers are going to follow them and they are going to follow that lead and that’s what was on display tonight,” said Monken. “And it wasn’t just on our sideline. The other team was fighting that way too. That’s what is great about this game and about these teams. We want to win this game, we want to beat their pants off, I want to beat them every time we play them. But I respect the fight that the competitors have in this game. Their guys, our guys – it’s what makes our military the best fighting force this world has ever known, because of people like that leading soldiers.”