The 118th Army-Navy football game was held at Lincoln Financial Field in Phillidelphia on Saturday, December 9th.
PHILADELPHIA — There’s no way to understate the disappointment that filled the Navy locker room after Saturday’s 14-13 loss to Army at Lincoln Financial Field.
There was just too much at stake and so many ways that the game could’ve gone a different way.
The Midshipmen made several mistakes on a final drive that could’ve brought the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy back to Annapolis. They bumbled the ball twice and gave back 10 yards on two penalties before the potential game-winning field goal missed short and wide by just a yard or two.
Instead of a wild celebration, they saw their record fall to .500 (6-6) after their sixth loss in their past seven games in the one game that could make it all better.
So, coach Ken Niumatalolo could have been forgiven for cursing the fates after his second straight loss to the Black Knights, but he didn’t. He congratulated his friend and rival coach Jeff Monken on Army’s first Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy since 1996 and then marveled like the rest of us at the unbelievable skills of speedy sophomore quarterback Malcolm Perry.
“I’m excited,” Niumatalolo said. “I’m really excited. I don’t know how much the kid rushed for, but that’s on a sloppy field, but you know what he can do on a dry field. He’s a talented kid and we’ve got some good guys coming back, and we’re excited about our future.”
Perry rushed for 250 yards on 30 carries and carried the offense for most of the day, completing his second 200-plus-yard performance of the season, which tied a Navy record. The fact that he got almost all of those yards out of the wildcat formation says a lot about the direction the Mids might take their multidimensional offense in the future.
He was so impressive that Niumatalolo didn’t even dodge the question when he was asked if Perry — after only his second start at quarterback — would be the full-time starter going forward.
“Probably,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ll see. You know, we’re kind of fresh off this game. We’ll go back and evaluate everything and look at our season. We’re kind of stinging from the loss right now, so we haven’t looked that far ahead.”
Don’t kid yourself. There’s no turning back from here. Perry represents a different future and an even more dynamic offensive attack than the Mids have employed so successfully for so long.
This certainly isn’t Paul Johnson’s Navy football. Niumatalolo took the triple-option offense to a new level and Perry has allowed him to add a major wrinkle that could make the Mids even more competitive in the toughening American Athletic Conference.
“We’ve got to get better,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to get better as a team. We’re looking in the offseason at things we can improve on, offensively, defensively and on special teams. You have to.”
Don’t misunderstand. Niumatalolo isn’t going to abandon the triple option, which has turned Navy into the most successful football program among the three major service academies, but he has always adapted it to his personnel. Perry again displayed the breakaway speed that carried him to a 282-yard, four-touchdown performance in a wild victory over Southern Methodist on Nov. 11.
Cue the comparisons to Keenan Reynolds, the best quarterback of the Johnson/Niumatalolo era, but understand that there are some obvious differences. Reynolds couldn’t beat Perry in a foot race, but he was the most efficient and versatile of Navy’s triple-option quarterbacks.
For Perry to be in that conversation, he’ll have to develop a passing game. But he said after the game that he was confident he could do whatever might be necessary if Niumatalolo turns the offense over to him for his junior and senior years.
“I don’t know what’s in the coach’s head for the future,” Perry said. “I know if that’s what is asked of me, I’ll get ready to do that. I don’t really know what’s in store for the future. … I feel if the coaches make that call, I feel like the guys are behind me and I feel like I’ll be able to take that position and get this team going in the right direction.”