PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Midshipmen had already lost the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. They weren’t about to lose to Army, too.
Ricky Dobbs threw the longest touchdown pass in the 111-year history of the Army-Navy game, Wyatt Middleton had the longest fumble return in school history, and the Midshipmen extended their winning streak against Army to nine straight with a 31-17 victory Saturday.
Dobbs passed for 186 yards and two touchdowns in his final game against the Black Knights (6-6), one of 24 seniors to never lose to their rivals from West Point. Dobbs turned the ball over four times — three fumbles and an interception in the end zone — but also ran for a team-high 54 yards for Navy (9-3).
Trent Steelman threw for 128 yards and two scores for Army, but it was his fumble late in the first half that put the Black Knights in a hole too deep to escape.
They already trailed 17-7 with first-and-goal at the Navy 3 when Steelman got stood up on a quarterback keeper. The ball squirted from his hands and right to Middleton, who turned around to see nobody in a black jersey between him and the goal line. The 98-yard return made it 24-7 at halftime and silenced the grey-clad Cadets in the corner of Lincoln Financial Field.
Middleton, a senior, was named the game’s MVP.
Army controlled the ball much of the second half, but could only muster Alex Carlton’s 42-yard field goal before Steelman’s late touchdown pass to Malcolm Brown provided the final margin.
Both teams lost to Air Force this season, ending the Midshipmen’s seven-year grip on the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy awarded to the top service academy. But another victory over Army — the game that matters most on the schedule every year — certainly helped to ease that sting.
Army is still headed to its first bowl game since 1996, the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 30 in Dallas against SMU. The Midshipmen play San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 23.
The latest edition of one of college sports’ marquee matchups certainly wasn’t pretty, perhaps because of long layoffs for both teams. The Army-Navy game was moved back on the schedule to separate it from the multitude of conference title games that have assumed the spotlight in recent years, meaning the two schools had not played a meaningful snap since Nov. 20.
It showed right away, when the two teams swapped turnovers in the first four offensive plays. They combined to fumble six times in the first half alone, losing five of them.
Joe Buckley finally struck for Navy with a 36-yard field goal. After its defense held, Dobbs found John Howell alone behind the coverage and hit him in the stride. The sophomore outran both Army safeties 77 yards for the touchdown, the longest passing score in series history.
Dobbs made it 17-0 early in the second quarter when he zipped a pass to Brandon Turner between two defenders from 32 yards out. It was the first touchdown of Turner’s career and allowed Dobbs to match Alton Grizzard’s single-season school record with 12 touchdown passes.
The Black Knights finally scored with 8:19 left in the half when Steelman hit Brown from 5 yards out, their first touchdown against Navy since the fourth quarter of the 2006 game.
That’s 201 minutes, 43 seconds of game time for those keeping track.
Army was poised to get within a field goal at halftime when Steelman plunged for the goal line with 1:03 remaining. He lost control of the ball, though, and Army lost control of the game.
By the time the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Midshipmen were headed to celebrate with their classmates in the corner of the stadium, a scene that has become all too familiar to the Cadets on the other sideline.