PHILADELPHIA — It was the Malcolm Perry show in the 120th edition of the Army-Navy football game.
Perry delivered a spectacular performance to punctuate his final appearance in the rivalry, adding to his growing legend while setting a slew of records.
Working primarily out of a shotgun formation, Perry ripped off long run after long run while drawing gasps from the sellout crowd of 68,075 with his blazing speed and jaw-dropping moves.
Perry established a career-high with 304 rushing yards and scored two touchdowns to lift No. 23 Navy to a 31-7 victory over archrival Army on Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field. Sophomore fullback Jamale Carothers contributed 74 rushing yards and scored two touchdowns for the Midshipmen, who snapped a three-game losing streak to the Black Knights.
“Just super proud of our team and so happy for our seniors,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “This didn’t happen today. It happened back in January with our senior leadership and commitment to be successful.”
Niumatalolo, who fought back tears during his post-game press conference, became the all-time winningest coach in the 120-year history of the Army-Navy series. The 54-year-old Hawaiian is now 9-3 against the archrival and surpassed Hall of Fame Army head coach Red Blaik (8-8-2) for that title.
“I’ve been coaching in this game a long time and that was a pretty dominant performance by our team,” Niumatalolo said. “I’m happy for our seniors that they could finish off with a win like this and go out the right way.”
Perry’s first touchdown came off an electrifying 55-yard run and he also broke loose for gains of 44 and 32 yards on the way to being named game’s Most Valuable Player by the Philadelphia Sportswriters Association. He added a 15-yard scoring scamper late in the fourth quarter to put an exclamation point on the commanding win.
The 5-foot-9, 185-pound senior set an Army-Navy game rushing record — overtaking former Navy tailback Eddie Meyers, who ran for 278 yards in the 1979 game. Perry also surpassed Meyers to become the all-time leading rusher in Army-Navy game history.
Meyers gained 547 yards in three games from 1979 through 1981, but Perry piled up 606 yards in three games from 2017 to 2019.
Perry also set the Navy single-season record for rushing yards, moving past another legendary tailback in Napoleon McCallum (1981-85), whose total of 1,587 yards had stood since 1983. Perry has 1,804 yards this season and will no doubt add to his record during the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31.
As if that weren’t enough, Perry established a new Navy season record for total offense as he now has 2,831 yards between passing and rushing. That broke the mark of 2,595 set by quarterback Will Worth in 2016.
“Malcolm was unbelievable. That’s God-given. Either you have that (ability) or you don’t," Niumatalolo said. “He’s just an amazing, amazing runner.”
Navy put Perry in the shotgun and pretty much ran double-option with the quarterback and Carothers. Perry either handed off to his fullback or kept the ball himself.
“It got to the point that I didn’t even see plays, I was just like either Malcolm’s carrying it or Jamale’s carrying it. We did some things a little bit different but we wanted to open up the box and not play this game in a phone booth,” Niumatalolo said. “We wanted to spread things out and let Malcolm’s and Jamale’s talents take over.”
Perry’s heroics helped Navy (10-2) recapture the coveted Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the first time since 2015. That 187-pound, three-sided piece of hardware will reside in the rotunda of Bancroft Hall for the 11th time since 2003.
“Beating Army... now we are on our way to the White House and we are going to get a ring on our finger,” said outside linebacker Nizaire Cromartie, who was part of a senior class that savored its first victory over the archrival. “I think the CIC means the world to the guys on this team.”
As a sophomore, Perry started at quarterback and rushed for 250 yards in the snow during a heartbreaking 14-13 loss to Army. He broke loose for a 68-yard touchdown run, but most will remember how he was tripped up by defensive end John Voit on the way to scoring a second touchdown.
Last season, Perry played slotback and was limited to 52 rushing yards as the Black Knights beat the Mids, 17-10. Needless to say, the Tennessee native was thrilled to finally get a win in the series.
“It means the world. Coming into the season, personally, it was my biggest goal,” Perry said. “This was the biggest game I have ever played in my life. We didn’t win the last three games (against Army), but that makes this win even more sweet.”
Navy’s defense was equally responsible for the lopsided victory, limiting Army (5-8) to 148 yards of total offense. The Black Knights scored off a 78-yard drive early in the first quarter then managed only 70 yards the rest of the way.
Sophomore nose tackle J’arius Warren had a monstrous outing, shedding blockers on the way to a career-high 11 tackles. The Midshipmen recorded eight tackles for a loss with outside linebacker Jake Springer responsible for 2 ½ by himself.
Army coach Jeff Monken pulled somewhat of a surprise by starting junior Christian Anderson at quarterback. Anderson was impressive in leading the one long scoring drive, but his inexperience showed as the game progressed.
Afterward, Monken revealed that senior Kelvin Hopkins, who started every game this season in which he was healthy, was unable to go due to a hamstring injury suffered in the Hawaii loss on Nov. 30. While most of the questions in Monken’s press conference were about the Army quarterback situation, he thought this game was more about the Navy signal-caller.
“I couldn’t be happier to see Malcolm Perry graduate. He is a terrific player and ran through us today. There wasn’t much we could do about it," Monken said.
Army struck first with the type of smash-mouth, time-consuming drive that can crush the spirit of a defense. Anderson did most of the damage as the Black Knights marched 78 yards in 18 plays, taking 10 minutes and 41 seconds off the clock.
The Black Knights converted on fourth-and-1 just after moving into enemy territory and succeeded on four subsequent third down attempts in grinding down the Mids, who missed numerous tackles on the drive.
Anderson faked an inside handoff to the fullback then turned the corner and scored from 5 yards out to give Army an early 7-0 lead. Left tackle Alex Herndon delivered a crushing block on Navy cornerback Cameron Kinley to clear the way for Anderson, who did not play at all in seven of 12 previous games this season.
It did not take long for Navy to strike back — less than two minutes in fact. That’s because Perry gained 15 yards on second down then broke loose for a 55-yard touchdown jaunt two plays later.
Perry faked a handoff to the fullback then took an option keeper upfield, breaking past the second level then leaving Army safety Cedrick Cunningham grasping at air with a lightning-quick cutback move. Perry outraced several chasing defenders down the right sideline to tie the score at seven at the 13:34 mark of the second quarter.
Navy’s defense rebounded to force punts on consecutive Army possessions and that gave the designated home team a chance to take the lead. Coming off its own goal-line for the second straight possession, the Midshipmen put together an impressive 12-play, 91-yard drive that ate up the final 4 ½ minutes of the first half.
Of course, Perry delivered the big play — dropping back to pass then scrambling 44 yards deep into Army territory. After setting up in the pocket and spending several seconds scanning the field, Perry tucked the ball and took off – once again making a would-be tackler miss in the open field with a head-and-shoulder fake.
Niumatalolo dipped into his bag of tricks with 12 seconds remaining on the clock and the Midshipmen needing a yard to score a touchdown. Perry ran left and pitched to wide receiver Chance Warren, who then threw a pass to Carothers in the end zone for a touchdown that put the Mids ahead 14-7 with six seconds left.
Fans in the stands and viewers on television no doubt recognized the gadget play as being similar to the “Philly Special” the Eagles used to beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Niumatalolo said offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper designed the play, which is slightly different than the Philadelphia version and was renamed “Navy Special.”
“It was off the Philly Special. Kind of appropriate to run it here,” Niumatalolo said. “We had practiced it a lot this week. It was great execution. That was a heck of a catch by Jamale.”
Navy got the ball to start the second half and appeared poised to add to its lead after Perry ripped off a 32-yard run. That set up first down at the visitor’s 18-yard line, but the drive stalled there and the Mids had to settle for a short field goal attempt.
However, cornerback Elijah Riley came flying off the edge to block the kick, which is usually an indication the get-off time is too slow. It was a big defensive stop that prevented Navy from making it a two-score game.
Army took over at its own 20-yard line and wound up going backwards due to a pair of penalties (false start, holding) and a sack by Navy inside linebacker Diego Fagot. The Black Knights were forced to punt from their own end zone and that gave the Midshipmen great field position.
Taking over at the Army 45-yard line, Navy used seven plays and almost four minutes to score its third touchdown of the day. Carothers burst up the middle for a nice 14-yard pickup to get the ball into the red zone and three players later Perry delivered another highlight reel run.
Scrambling again after a designed rollout did not produce an open receiver, Perry looked like a torpedo shot from a submarine as he ripped through the Army defense for another 18 yards, setting up first-and-goal from the 5-yard line.
Carothers took it from there, rumbling up the middle for a 5-yard touchdown run that increased the lead to 21-7 with 4:53 left in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, Navy’s defense was more than doing its part — stuffing Army deep in its own territory for the second straight possession. Desperately needing a drive to get back into the game, the Black Knights failed to pick up a first down and were forced to punt from their own goal-line again.
Given a short field again, Navy chewed up some more clock before tacking on a 37-yard field goal by Bijan Nichols that made it 24-7 with 12:48 to go in the game.
NAVY VS. KANSAS STATE
Dec. 31, 3:45 p.m.
TV: ESPN Radio: 1090 AM