FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin walked out to the middle of the turf at Gillette Stadium, stood on top of the Army-Navy logo for “America’s Game” and stoically flipped the coin ahead of the final matchup of the year for the military academy rivals. Army won the toss — and then everything else over the next 60 minutes of game action Saturday afternoon as it never trailed.
Black Knights quarterback Bryson Daily made play after play and the defense remained stout to give Army the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy in a 17-11 victory. Linebacker Kalib Fortner stripped the ball from Navy quarterback Tai Lavatai with 4:49 left and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown to put Army ahead by a seemingly unreachable 14 points.
A late touchdown and a subsequent defensive stop gave Navy (5-7) one last chance, but a Lavatai sneak on fourth and goal from the 2-yard line was ruled short with three seconds remaining. After a lengthy review, the ruling on the field stood. Army (6-6) took a safety to end the game, and the cadets stormed the field.
Army posted its second straight win in the series. Last year’s matchup went to overtime for the first time and ended in heartbreak for the Mids on a fumble at the goal line in double OT during a 20-17 defeat in Philadelphia.
The Army-Navy game was played for the first time at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, in the 124th meeting between the academies. All of the usual pageantry was present as students in uniform wrapped around the south end zone stands. A line of Navy parachutists in football uniforms floated onto the turf, followed by an Army group. Eight midshipmen met eight cadets at midfield, with the Navy octet spelling out “NUKE ARMY” on their backs as their counterparts offered “EAT SQUID.”
The festivities began hours before the game as ESPN hosted “College GameDay” on location and trotted out Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Coach Bill Belichick, who spoke to the Midshipmen on Friday night. Belichick grew up in Annapolis, and his father, Steve, was an assistant coach at Navy. Ex-Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski celebrated with fans in the stands, and a letter from President Biden was on the first page of the game program.
Army wore brown-and-black uniforms that honored soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division during the opening phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Navy’s dark blue scheme honored the U.S. submarine force, known as the Silent Service.
Army got on the board first with an easy four-yard touchdown pass from Dailey to Tyson Riley in a complete defensive bust by Navy. Riley was split wide right without a defender in the area. Shortly before the ball was snapped, two Navy defenders began to frantically point in his direction, but it was too late. By the time one began to move, the ball was snapped and Riley turned and threw it before the defense could recover.
The Black Knights had the only other first-half points on Quinn Maretzki’s 47-yard field goal to close the second quarter.
That 10-point deficit had to feel much larger for a Navy team that had little success on either side of the ball. The Mids went three-and-out on three of their first four possessions, and the other resulted in an interception on an overthrow by Xavier Arline after he led his team to the Army 24-yard line. Arline was replaced by Lavatai for the final Navy possession of the half; the Mids reached Army territory but failed to convert on fourth and two at the 37.
The Midshipmen finally got on the board with 12:45 left in the game on a Nathan Kirkwood 37-yard field goal. Navy finally reached the end zone when Lavatai threw a 14-yard pass to Jayden Umbarger with 2:47 remaining, but a two-point conversion pass failed, leaving the score at 17-9. A few ill-timed penalties and a lack of explosive offensive plays doomed Navy despite a valiant effort by the defense.
Daily finished with 84 rushing yards and 54 passing for Army despite being bottled up in the second half. Kanye Udoh had 88 rushing yards.
Lavatai ran for 73 yards and surged late to throw for 179 for Navy. Linebacker Colin Ramos recorded a career-high 16 tackles.