• Graham Knight

Navy Beats Army in Classic Rivalry Game

by Graham Knight

It was what has come to epitomize Army versus Navy: an all-out battle where the gladiators leave it all on the field.

And so it was again, before the largest crowd in nearly half a century that an underdog, with only three wins on the year, would knock off the defending CIC champs. Navy beat Army 17-13 before more than 82,000 fans just across the river from New York City, the sight of the tragic terror attacks of 20 years ago.

The winning formula for the Midshipmen was "Do unto Army what Army has done to most of its opponents this season": run the ball and control the clock.2 But it will be the “mistake,” as Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo called it, that will forever be remembered in Army-Navy lore, the fake that was a mistake.

“Oh, it’s a fake. It’s a fake" was the call by Pete Medhurst on the Navy radio network. "Trying to get up to the 35, it’s Fagot. It’s Diego Fagot the up-back, and he dives up to the thirty five and . . . oh, my!”

Just like that, the Navy Midshipmen seized control of the 122nd Army-Navy Game. But the real headline from this game could be: Linebacker Diego Fagot's four-yard run on fourth and one from the Navy 34 wasn't called by the coaches!

"I didn't know we were going to do that," Niumatalolo said after the game. "You know, we got all these signals, and our signals got mixed up. No, that's not what's supposed to happen. We got lucky, but like I said, 'It's good to be lucky too.'"

"I was supposed to block the closed guy to the snapper," Fagot said in the post-game press conference, "and so I was kind of looking in that direction. When I checked it, I guess the snapper didn't hear me correctly. So I guess he assumed that that I called the fake and you just have to manage the reaction play, obviously.

"Yeah, I mean, as a linebacker, you kind of already have tunnel vision, so I wasn't really expecting it. So when I caught it, I just I just started running straight and it just happened to be right in front of one guy."

That fake punt proved to be the play of the game—maybe the year for the Midshipmen—as it extended Navy's drive. The drive would ultimately go a total of 15 plays and eat up nearly 9 minutes of the fourth quarter, and it was capped off by a 43-yard field goal by Bijan Nichols which gave Navy a four-point lead, 17-13.

The contest started strong for the Black Knights. On just their fourth play of the game senior quarterback Christian Anderson took the option and sprinted to his left and went all the way in for a 56-yard touchdown run to give Army the early, first-quarter lead just two minutes into the game.

But Navy's coach wasn't worried about Army's fast start.

"We had a long ways to go, you don't flinch," Niumatalolo said. "That happens. So it probably is good to happen that early because it of kind of settled us down a little bit. Then after that, I thought we played really well on defense."

Navy answered on an 11-play, 83-yard drive and sophomore quarterback Tai Lavatai's 8-yard run that tied the game at seven.

Army would add a 31-yard Cole Talley field goal at the end of the first quarter to give the Black Knights a 10-7 lead.

That's when both defenses clamped down. In the second quarter Navy had only 46 yards of offense, Army just 34. But, the Black Knights added another field goal late in the first half to take the 13-7 lead at the break.

"I was disappointed we couldn't finish those drives with touchdowns," Jeff Monken, Army's head coach said later. "Certainly, it would have made a difference in the game."

On the season, Army was 8-0 when leading at the half, but the Mids took the second half kick and marched 74 yards in just under six minutes to take a 14-13 lead. The key play was a fourth-and-four conversion attempt where senior co-captain Chance Warren dashed for 26 yards to reach the Army two-yard line.

Lavatai took it in from there for his second touchdown of the game, and Navy took the lead 14-13.

Meanwhile, the Black Knights could muster nothing on offense. Of their four second-half possessions, three resulted in punts and the fourth ended in a turnover on downs after Anderson was stopped short.

"[In the] second half we didn't give ourselves a chance on offense," Monken said, "and that's a credit to Navy. It wasn't energy or any of those things, they just outplayed us. They were more physical and beat blocks, and we didn't do a good enough job."

Navy, on the other hand, was able to do what Army has done so efficiently all season long: run the ball and burn up the clock. The Black Knights led the nation in time of possession heading into the game, but Navy held the ball for nearly 22 minutes and kept Army to just 57 yards of offense in the second half.

More importantly, the Mids held the Black Knights scoreless after halftime.

But those stats are likely to be footnotes on this contest, because this game is going to be remembered for the surprise fake punt to Diego Fagot.

"He certainly was a factor on that play," Monken said of Fagot, "and he's a good linebacker. I think he's, you know, garnered the respect of people in that league and then certainly us. [He's a] good player and made some plays for his team today."

"Sometimes it's good to be lucky," Niumatalolo said to the media with a laugh. "Little miscommunication in the air, but, you know, players got to make plays."

While it was an exciting win for Navy, who came into the game 3-8 on the season and as a 7-point underdog, the game was played in the shadow of September 11th and honored those who died in the attacks.

There were also heavy hearts among the Navy faithful, as two players wore a special patch to remember former Midshipman safety Brian Bourgeois, a 2001 graduate of the US Naval Academy who was killed in the week prior to the game while leading his SEAL Team in training exercises.

And for Diego Fagot, he led his team with nine tackles and this game against Army was a chance to put a punctuation mark on his Navy football career -- with the last word:

"One of the things is they say they're the last of the hard. And, quite frankly, like, we took that to heart. And, you know, like they think their culture is better than ours. Regardless of the score, we're going to keep playing as hard as we can, and we pride ourselves on that. I mean, I can't say enough about how they think they're the last of the hard, but it's just not the case. They're our little brothers."