By Bo Smolka
LANDOVER The trials of a very frustrating Navy football season were never far from the foot of kicker Jon Teague. His extra-point try in overtime was blocked in a one-point loss to Air Force. A potentially game-winning field goal at Rutgers was blocked. A potential game-tying field goal against East Carolina clanked off the upright on the final play of the game.
So for the Midshipmen and head coach Ken Niumatalolo, there was poetic justice that Teague delivered in crunch time in the biggest game of the season, kicking a pair of fourth-quarter field goals to lift Navy to a 27-21 win over Army before 80,789 at FedEx Field on Saturday.
The win was a record 10th straight by Navy in this classic service academy rivalry.
Navy quarterback Kriss Proctor carried 32 times for 97 yards and two scores, and fullback Alexander Teich ran 18 times for 93 yards and a touchdown. But it was the thought of Teague that led an emotional Niumatalolo to halt during his postgame press conference.
Im just so happy for him, Niumatalolo said, his voice breaking. I mean its just a game. Some of the things that were said about that kid There were some personal things were said about him. These are just college students playing football. Some people said some things like he had committed a crime or something.
It couldnt have ended any better for somebody like Jon, who had to persevere through so much criticism.
The win takes some of the sting out of the fact that the Mids (5-7) failed to reach a bowl game for the first time in nine seasons.
Army (3-9) never led, but the Cadets showed they have closed the gap with their Annapolis rivals, as the previous nine Navy wins were all decided by at least 12 points. Five of those nine were decided by at least 20 points.
With President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden looking on, the Mids built a 14-0 lead in the second quarter, but then had to hold off Army, which twice rallied to tie the game.
As they have been all season, the Cadets were hurt by turnovers. They lost three fumbles, including one on the kickoff return right after Navy had taken a 24-21 lead. Navy converted two of those turnovers into first-half touchdowns, and Teagues field goal after the third fumble gave Navy a 27-21 lead with 10:26 left.
Our team played really hard. Our team competed really well, Army coach Rich Ellerson said.
We didnt do the things that correlate with success on the scoreboard. We didnt win the turnover battle. We got crushed in the kicking game.
Teagues first field goal, from 23 yards out, capped an 18-play drive and gave the Mids a 24-21 lead with 12:03 left. On the ensuing kickoff, Army returner Scott Williams was hammered by Noah Copeland, and Jordan Drake recovered at the Army 27-yard line. That led to Teagues 44-yard field goal.
Navy, playing in white helmets with an anchor logo for the first time, converted a pair of Army fumbles into a 14-0 lead in the first half. The Cadets, though, drew even with touchdowns on two straight possessions. Cadets quarterback Trent Steelman carried right on a keeper, found an opening and outraced the Navy secondary for a 34-yard score with 3:34 left in the first half. Then Malcolm Brown (11 carries, 82 yards) scored on a 5-yard run in the final minute of the half.
Teich sparked the Mids to begin the second half with a 47-yard kickoff return his first runback of the season. That led to a 2-yard touchdown run by Proctor with 12:43 left in the third quarter.
Army quickly tied the game again at 21 by perfectly executing a rare pass play. Steelman (3-for-5 passing, 48 yards) faked a toss right and threw down the middle to Brown for a 25-yard touchdown.
From then on, the games only points came off the much-maligned foot of Teague.
He took all the criticism, he took all the pressure, Teich said. No one on this team gave up on him. Im so proud of him.