Saturday’s Army-Navy battle is the sixth staged in the Garden State and first since 2002
- The Game: 122nd Army-Navy Game
- The Venue: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
- The Series: Navy leads 61-53-7
- The Time/TV: Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, CBS
It’s been a long, long time since visitors to MetLife Stadium have been been able to be proud of their football teams. Fortunately, two will be there to pick up the slack on Saturday afternoon.
The annual service academy showdown will be held at MetLife Stadium for the first time this afternoon, pitting the Army Black Knights against the Navy Midshipmen. East Rutherford was chosen to stage the 122nd edition of the game in observance of 20 years since the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.
The game is often held in Philadelphia due to its equal distance from both West Point and Annapolis though it was moved to Army’s Michie Stadium in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think New York City is looked upon as a symbol of strength for this nation. The towering buildings the financial district, the fact that it’s the center of the world, it’s right here it’s part of our country,” Army head coach Jeff Monken said of the game’s return to the New York City area.
“That symbol of strength was attacked and, for a moment, just knocked to its knees, but then the resiliency of New Yorkers, but also the American people rose…Americans go and serve and fight for our freedom, whether it’s on our own soil or somewhere else. To be able to honor those men and women that serve and answer that call is a tremendous privilege and an honor and we can do that with this game.”
“I think it’s a great honor for us to be able to play here,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatololo concurred. “It’s a game (between) two institutions that represent our country, two institutions that protect our country and our freedoms, two institutions that had people who served and a paid the ultimate sacrifice, because of the conflicts that occurred from 9/11. To be able to remember them, to pay tribute to them. I think it’s only fitting that we are the two schools to do that.”
Army took home last year’s meeting on its home turf by a 15-0 final, its first shutout in the rivalry since 1969. The Black Knights have won four of the past five meetings overall after ending Navy’s 14-game winning streak in 2016.
Records are often the last topic of conversation when discussing the Army-Navy Game, but the Cadets carried on a period of football prosperity this season, posting their fifth winning record over the past six seasons. One more game awaits them after Saturday, as they’ll partake in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 22 against Missouri.
Army has defined this season with a sense of physical, smashmouth, defensive football: the Black Knights defense ranks 16th nationally in yards allowed and each of their captains comes from the defense.
West Point reps are fully aware that their work will be cut out for them against Navy’s familiar offense.
“I think we’re playing our best football right now,” junior defensive back Marquel Broughton said. “I think that we’ve had struggles throughout the season, but we work together as a team, everyone knows their job, we do our job. Everyone plays their game really, really well.”
Army’s offense, long-defined by the triple option setup, is further established through variety. A run game that ranked second in the nation saw five players earn at least 300 yards. Sophomore Tyrell Robinson has been a threat both through the air and on the ground (averaging 12.5 yards per touch) while junior Jakobi Buchanan has carried on in the tradition of power rushers Mike Mayweather and Darnell Woolfolk to score 11 touchdowns.
The Black Knights enter Saturday’s game as winners of its last four, but they put up valiant efforts against elite foes earlier this season: a trip to Wisconsin was separated by only six points while a tilt against ACC finalists from Wake Forest ended in a 70-56 final. Monken believes that the tough schedule built character for his squad entering the crucial contest at MetLife.
“A schedule like that just forces you to play good players and good teams to evaluate and do things better and prepare and so I think in the long run, it makes our guys better players. Hopefully, that makes us a better team.”
No matter what happens on Saturday, Army will maintain possession of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the fourth time in the past five seasons by virtue of their November win over Air Force (and Navy’s loss to the Falcons).
Navy (3-8, 3-5 AAC)
Records are, once again, irrelevant as is when it comes to Army-Navy, and that goes double for the Midshipmen’s losing mark. Even if not offset by the intensity of the game, half of their losses came by one possession, including a 27-20 loss at the hands of College Football Playoff participant Cincinnati in October.
Niumatololo, set to partake in his 14th Army-Navy contest (an established Annapolis record) was nonetheless impressed with his team’s fight and resolve this season, an impression that spread to his team’s leaders.
“I think we’ve gotten better. I think a big part of it is who we’ve played. We’ve had the number one toughest schedule in the country,” Niumatololo said.
“We had our chances in a lot of those games but when you play those types of people, you can’t make mistakes. When they’re better than you, you have to play perfectly and we didn’t. But we’ve gotten better and have gotten our chances exactly right. I say our guys have improved. I’m encouraged because I feel like we’re playing our best football as we get to the end part of the season.”
“I feel like sometimes players have been trying to do too much,” linebacker Diego Fagot added. “In an Army-Navy Game, those mistakes are very amplified. For this game, we’re definitely going to just try to focus on doing our jobs. I’m not going to try to do anyone else’s. I’m just going to try to do my specific job as a linebacker.”
Even with the fuel of winning this classic rivalry game proving reliable, the Midshipmen enter in somewhat dire straits. they’re dead last in the AAC’s offensive rankings (a performance that led to a demotion for longtime offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper) and will be missing star defender Kevin Brennan, out due to shoulder surgery.
That has done little to whittle Navy’s resolve, as they’ll be looking to push the rivalry back to sea after dropping four of the last five. All but one of those losses have come by one possession.
Players to Watch
Army QB Christian Anderson
A quarterback playing a sizable role in the Army-Navy Game? Rest assured, West Point, it’s not Roger Staubach but it’s rather Anderson, a Bronx native who’s looking to go out on a high note with a hint of revenge.
Anderson has made a surprising impact in Army’s aerial attack (averaging 12.4 yards on 44 attempts) and scored the Cadets’ only touchdown as a sophomore in the 31-7 loss to Navy in 2019.
CHRISTIAN ANDERSON 72 YARDS TO THE HOUSE 🏠
Army (-320) strikes first against Miami (OH)pic.twitter.com/XnNU1QJQSg
— PointsBet Sportsbook (@PointsBetUSA) September 25, 2021
Army DB Marquel Broughton
Among Army’s well-documented four defensive captains, the Georgia-based Broughton is the only underclassman. Not only has he appeared at or near the top of collegiate analytic lists but he’s almost impressed Army management with the way he has risen to the occasion.
“Marquel was really special. He’s got a spirit about him. I think everybody on our team really is attracted to his spirit and his energy. He compels people to do their best and brings the best out of guys,” Monken said of Broughton’s contributions. “A leader is a leader and Marquel has been a leader since the day you walk through the door.”
Army gets the party started 👀
Marquel Broughton comes up BIG for the defense. pic.twitter.com/fOB4G7YoR1
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) September 11, 2021
Navy WR Mychal Cooper
Saturday will be the last stand for Cooper, one of the Midshipmen’s most consistent offensive weapons over the last four seasons. There’s no doubt he’d love to end his Annapolis career on a high note, especially considering that Army has held him stat-less in each of the past two contests.
Tai Lavatai to Mychal Cooper for a 27-yard gain 🎯
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) November 20, 2021
Navy LB Diego Fagot
If any of Saturday’s participants have an immediate NFL future, it’s likely Fagot, Navy’s leading backfield invader with 11 tackles for a loss. Following Saturday’s game, Fagot will make an appearance in the East-West Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas next February.
One of the top tacklers in the AAC, Diego Fagot has impressed with his closing burst and range. @diegofagot54 is relentless in his pursuit and his easy acceleration makes him disruptive chasing to the sideline and as a blitzer ⚓️⚓️⚓️ @ShrineBowl pic.twitter.com/InXcvSSazq
— Eric Galko (@EricGalko) December 7, 2021
Prediction: Army 16, Navy 7
Though temperatures are slightly warmer than a traditional Army-Navy Game, the weather is still set to play an adversarial role through fog in the tri-state area. That should play well into the arm of an experienced, well-tuned offense like Army’s.
It won’t be easy, but the Black Knights should escape from New York (or head back to it) with another victory in hand.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags