With one minute remaining, the Brigade of Midshipmen started their favorite chant: "I believe that we will win, I believe that we will win."
Navy's players were jumping in unison on the sidelines and coach Rick Sowell raised a fist in triumph.
Oh how sweet it was for Navy to finally taste victory over Army in lacrosse again.
Freshman midfielder Casey Rees scored three goals to spark the offense, sophomore faceoff specialist Brady Dove dominated in the fourth quarter and junior goalie John Connors made nine saves to anchor a defense that locked down at just the right time as Navy rallied to beat Army, 10-7, on Saturday.
Sophomore midfielder Colin Flounlacker scored the go-ahead goal with 6:48 left and junior attackman Patrick Keena followed with a pair of insurance goals as Navy snapped a six-game losing streak to the archrival. The Midshipmen had not beaten the Black Knights since April 2009 in Baltimore.
It marked the first time since 2007 the Mids had won the rivalry game in Annapolis and a raucous crowd of 9,523 loved every minute of it. When the final horn sounded, dozens of midshipmen – led by the lacrosse rooting section known as The Hooligans, stormed the field.
"Obviously, it feels great to beat Army. It's been too long since Navy beat Army," said Sowell, who entered Saturday's contest with an 0-3 record in the series. "It certainly feels good. What else can I say except that I'm so proud of my players."
Sowell and the underclassmen were particularly happy for the team's eight seniors, who finally found out what it feels like to beat Army. Three previous classes of Navy men's lacrosse players graduated without ever winning the rivalry game.
"We really wanted to get this win for the seniors. We talked about how the guys before had built this program and we needed to represent them and the seniors well today," Keena said.
Rees said the seniors all spoke to the squad during practice last week and talked about how the underclassmen had always said "we'll get 'em next year" after losing to Army.
"Well this is their final year. So to get the win for the seniors was huge," Rees said.
Junior attackman T.J. Hanzsche scored twice while senior midfielder Gabe Voumard contributed two assists for Navy, which outscored Army 6-1 in the fourth quarter. That was due largely to Dove, who captured 6 of 8 faceoffs in the frame.
"Fourth quarter, Brady stepped up and so did our wing guys," Sowell said.
Navy trailed 6-3 and was on the verge of being shut out in the third quarter when freshman attackman Jack Ray bulled his way to the front of the goal and scored on a diving shot with just four seconds left. That score sparked a 7-0 run by the Mids.
"I thought that was the biggest goal of the game," Army coach Joe Alberici said. "It changed the complexion of the game somewhat."
Hanzsche opened the fourth quarter scoring with an unassisted goal after isolating a short-stick defensive midfielder and Rees tied the game for the first time at the 9:10 mark with an extra-man goal.
Flounlacker used a determined move to give Navy its first lead, 7-6. The Kent Island High graduate backed down-short stick defensive midfielder Al DeStefano then used a quick burst to slip past him to get to the front of the cage for a short shot.
Dove kept winning faceoffs and Keena provided the breathing room by beating close defenseman Sean Jollota for unassisted goals just over a minute apart, increasing the lead to 9-7 with just 2:55 remaining.
"It's tough to put to words what just happened out there on the field. The way we did it kind of typifies this team, our willingness to scrap and hustle," Sowell said. "It may not always be pretty, but we're going to bang and fight and find a way to get it done."
That statement was supported by the ground ball battle, which Navy won 36-23. Connors came out of his cage to scoop seven grounders. Sowell made ground balls a point of emphasis after the Midshipmen were whipped by Loyola, 37-22, on ground balls last Saturday.
"We talked Monday and that was at the top of the list. We have to own the ground balls. It's a mentality. Picking up ground balls isn't about technique and coaching," Sowell said. "After what happened at Loyola, we wanted to get back to being who we are and certainly that's a big part of it."
Alberici said defensive personnel were responsible for 17 of Navy's ground balls. Close defensemen Chris Fennell and Jules Godino scooped five and three, respectively.
"I thought they were terrific on the defensive end with their ground ball play. If the ball got tipped or went to the ground they were on it," Alberici said.
Fennell also did a superb job of covering Army leading scorer John Glesener, who was limited to one goal one week after totaling nine points against Boston University.
"Chris wanted that matchup. He played a great game and really made my job easier," Connors said.
Lost amid the excitement of beating Army was the fact Navy clinched a share of the Patriot League regular season championship and assured its first winning record since 2009. The Midshipmen, who finished 6-2 in conference play, must await results from next weekend to learn whether they have first-round bye and will get to host a semifinal matchup.
"We've heard it all before. We couldn't win close games, we couldn't beat ranked teams, we couldn't do this, couldn't do that. All we've done this season is dispel those myths," Sowell said. "It goes to the leadership of the seniors and team chemistry. I don't know that I've coached a team that has the type of chemistry this team has, and that goes a long way."
Army (8-4, 4-3) 4 0 2 1 - 7
Navy (8-4, 6-2) 1 2 1 6 - 10
GOALS: A – Johnson 2, Glesener, Cook, Glancy, Newsome, Baird. N – C. Rees 3, Keena 2, Hanzsche 2, Voumard, Ray, Flounlacker. ASSISTS: A – D'Aprile. N – Voumard 2, Ray. SHOTS: A – 29. N – 37. SAVES: A – Somers 7. N – Connors 9. GROUND BALLS: A – 23. N – 36. FACEOFFS: A – 8. N – 20. TURNOVERS: A – 14. N – 14.