In the recent history of the classic Army-Navy football series, the Midshipmen have found a number of bizarre ways to lose games to the Cadets -- missed last-second field goals, questionable strategy and severe breakdowns on defense among them.But no defeat has been more galling or memorable in this 99-year rivalry than yesterday's 34-30 loss at Veterans Stadium in a record-breaking offensive display that featured countless spectacular plays.
Leading 30-25 with 8: 51 remaining, Navy seemed on the way to victory when fullback Matt Harden lunged for the goal line. He was hit by linebacker Will Henderson, who jarred the ball loose. Defensive back Jason Walker recovered in the end zone, forcing a touchback.
Three plays later from the Army 30, senior fullback Ty Amey broke through a huge hole off tackle and outraced the Navy secondary 70 yards for the winning touchdown.
But the Cadets' dramatic victory was tinged by a near-tragic accident that occurred as their rooting section celebrated Amey's touchdown.
Four cadets and six secondary-school students, two of them from the U.S. Military Prep School in Fort Monmouth, N.J., were whooping it up for television cameras when a waist-high railing collapsed at the east end of the stadium. The nine tumbled about 15 feet onto the field.
Seven were treated and released with injuries such as sprained ankles, necks and backs, said Army Capt. John Cornelio, a spokesman at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.
One was in stable condition, but needed more tests. Another, with a hip injury, was being X-rayed last night. The other, a cadet, suffered a broken neck and was downgraded last night from guarded to critical condition at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
The game was halted for 31 minutes while emergency crews removed the injured.
By then, the game's momentum had already turned on Harden's fumble.
On his key defensive play, Henderson said: "I had to cover the 'dive' on that play. I got enough of the fullback to knock the ball loose.
"Coach [Bob] Sutton always tells us that each play matters, especially knowing the history of our games with Navy."
Then it was Amey's turn to make an exclamation point in his final college game.
That emotional two-play turnaround seemed to take all the wind out of Navy's sails after the Midshipmen had looked to be in command, leading 30-19 in the third quarter on a 9-yard run by Harden.
Army's Eric Olsen added a 26-yard field goal with 50 seconds left to clinch the Cadets' sixth triumph in the last seven years of this service rivalry.
Any chance Navy (3-8) had of staging a miracle comeback ended when defensive back Tony Coaxum intercepted Brian Broadwater's final pass on the Army 49 with three seconds remaining.
Navy's defense, a problem all season, had no answer for the potent running game of the Cadets, who were No. 1 in the nation in rushing.
Army rolled up 401 yards on the ground. Amey gained 134 on 13 carries, senior fullback Craig Stucker rushed for 106 on only seven carries and sophomore quarterback Joe Gerena gained 92 after replacing senior Johnny Goff, whose fumbles on Army's first two possessions helped Navy jump out to an early 10-0 lead.
But Gerena quickly erased that deficit with touchdown runs of 25 and 69 yards in the first quarter. He was later outdone by Stucker's 71-yard scoring sprint in the second quarter and Amey's back-breaking dash in the fourth.
In the first half, Navy had great success with its passing game. Broadwater teamed with fellow sophomore Ryan Read for touchdown passes of 49 and 69 yards in the second quarter to build a 24-19 halftime lead.
In the second half, coach Charlie Weatherbie opted for running the ball and trying to control the clock. It seemed the right strategy until Harden's fatal fumble.
No one took the bitter setback harder than Navy co-captain and defensive tackle Jason Snider, who had been told his football days were over after suffering a badly bruised spleen against Notre Dame three weeks ago.
Cleared to play by Navy doctors on Monday, Snider was an inspiration on defense, being credited with nine tackles and joining freshman end Bwerani Nettles in forcing the two Goff fumbles that gave the Mids the early 10-point cushion.
"I had some pain, but in a game like this, you put it in the back of your mind," he said. "It was very tough emotionally for us, particularly the seniors, the way this ended. You can never replace games like this."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun