Back in November, Army upset a ranked Air Force team, making the first step toward’s taking back the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy from the Falcons.
On that front, the Black Knights’ final test would be taking down their oldest rival in the 124th Army-Navy game. Army held on for a 17-11 win over the Midshipmen on Saturday.
“There’s no bigger game for us than this game,” Army head coach Jeff Monken said after the victory. “We don’t apologize for it. We don’t take the signs down around campus or in our building that say ‘beat Navy’ all the other days of the year and then put them back up when we’re getting ready for the Army-Navy game. We prepare for this game every day.”
The biggest factor that led to the win? In Monken’s opinion, the defense. Army prevented a Navy score in each of the first three quarters. All of Navy’s points came in the fourth quarter. The Army score that arguably mattered the most came from linebacker Kalib Fortner on a 44-yard scoop-and-score.
ARMY SCOOP AND SCORE!— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 9, 2023
What a play by Kalib Fortner. pic.twitter.com/9HZcqU8siu
In an effort to prevent explosive plays that could turn the tide of the game, Monken was willing to live with Tai Lavatai and Navy hitting a series of short pass plays in the fourth quarter that eventually led to a score and then put them in the redzone with a chance to tie.
“When they brought Lavatai in, they seemed to be more effective running the football with him running the zone follow and those kinds of things,” Monken commented.
Monken felt confident that by he and defensive coordinator Nate Woody allowing the defense to play softer on the edges, they could limit explosive plays over the top and in the run game long enough that the clock would run out before Navy could take the lead.
“They did a really good job of stopping the run. Credit to Navy; they did a good job hitting some passes,” Monken said. “We were playing — they were playing a little soft on the perimeter, trying to keep the ball in front of us. We felt like if we kept the ball in front of us that we were going to be able to win the football game, not get something thrown over our head.”
The strategy paid off as the Black Knights limited Navy to just 130 rushing yards, which played a role in Army winning the time of possession battle.
“I’m proud of our defense for the way they defended the run because I think that’s where it’s got to start, especially in these games.” Monken concluded. “If you can be effective stopping the run, you’re going to give yourself a great chance to win the football game.”
With the win, Army take sole possession of the Commander-In-Chief’s trophy for the first time since 2020. It’s the tenth time Army has done so since the trophy was established in 1972.
Army’s season then ends on high note, considering they will not play in a bowl game this season with a 6-6 record. Two of Army’s win this season came against FCS opponents.