December 10, 2012

The End of the Road for the 2012 season

The End of the Road

Saturday marks the end of a long and poignant season for the Black Knights as they saw their hopes of snapping an eleven game losing streak against arch-rival Navy flutter away with an untimely fumble in the closing ticks of the 113th matchup between the two teams. An emotional Trent Steelman commented about the harrowing fumble, "I mean that's life, and sometimes things don't go your way and we just have to deal with it…. I'm going to put that [the fumble] on me. There's no way I'd ever put that on someone like Larry." As coach Rich Ellerson pointed out after the game, Steelman had hoped to end a very successful four year career with the Black Knights on a higher note, but unfortunately the Midshipmen had other plans.

Expectations

Coach Ellerson confessed after the game, "We expected to win; we expected to win the whole time." No doubt most Army fans in the sellout crowd of 69,607 had similar expectations for this game. There seemed to be a general consensus amongst the resilient Army fans that this would be the year in which more than a decade of defeat would be reversed with an Army win ... you could feel it in the air during pre-game warm-ups and as the game unfolded. It seemed that the prayers of the Black Knight faithful would be answered on this cloudy Saturday when the Black Knights headed into the fourth quarter with a three point lead. Unfortunately, the Midshipmen went on to win the fourth quarter 7-0 providing them the 4 point lead and eventual win. However, Army should have won the fourth quarter and hence, the game. Of course, the team's failure to capitalize on opportunity after opportunity netted what may have be one of the most disappointing Army defeats in recent memory.

The best rushing offense in the nation did what they were good at on Saturday, compiling 370 yards on the ground. In fact Army's 418 yards of total offense trumped Navy's 297 total yards, 167 of which were on the ground. Raymond Maples lead the Army charge with 156 yards over 27 carries. Steelman had 96 yards on 17 keeps and fullback, Larry Dixon, had 61 yards over his 16 touches. As usual, Malcolm Brown, was a major player in Saturday's game. He only had 7 carries, but averaged 8.1 yards per carry for a total of 57 yards.

And when Steelman went did go to the air on Saturday, he completed 4 of 5 for a total of 48 yards, where he was able hooked up with Chevaughn Lawrence 3 times 44 yards. Steelman, who has been criticized in the past for Army's limited passing game, showed that he is able to find receivers and connect with them, especially in the intermediate passing game. However, going forward ... the Black Knights will have to use a more diverse offense that utilizes all of their assets instead of limiting them to a one faceted game.

The biggest setback for the Black Knight offense was the turnovers. The offense fumbled five times, resulting in turnovers three times. This has been a recurring problem for the offense this season, making victories hard to come by, which is contrary to the standard of Army football. Also, Eric Osteen's missed field goal in the fourth quarter hurt the Black Knights as it changed the dynamic of their final drive. With a made field goal Army would have only down by one point and simply had to get into field goal range for a win at the end... but then again, the kicking game didn't offer any guarantees.

Additionally and more revealing was Army's inability in their red zone where they were 2 of 4 and those are more crucial points that the Black Knights sacrificed. Navy was 3 of 3 in the red zone, showing dominance in the final score.

The Drive

As the end of the game approached, Army's final drive started on their own 17 yard line. Either way, this would go down as one of the most exciting Army-Navy finishes in recent memory. The 11 play drive would decide the outcome of the game, and it looked promising for Army fans. The Black Knights knew this would be their last chance to win the game and it look like the team would let their nerves best them, because on the first play they were penalized for a false start penalty which set them back to their own 12. But the offense composed themselves and began to put together what appeared to be the game winning drive. Steelman, Maples, Brown, and Dixon all took their turns carrying the ball and moved the ball to the Army 47. Then, Steelman connected with Lawrence twice moving them to the Navy 28 yard line. Then after another run by Dixon, Maples, and Steelman, Army saw themselves with a first down on the Navy 14 and half (Army) the stadium rocking the stadium, while the other half (Navy) praying and hoping for some type of miracle to stop the Black Knights' momentum.

Scoring seemed inevitable and it appeared nothing could stop the Army offensive machine from putting seven on the board and breaking the 10 game losing streak to Navy. However, the mistakes that they had tried to avoid all season came back to haunt them on their last offensive play of the 2012 season. With just over a minute left, a miscommunication between the Steelman and Dixon on the "mesh" led to a fumble and Navy recovery, as the Lincoln Financial Field tsunami unfolded that saw the emotional wave of Navy players, coaches and fans erupt and the previously heighten emotions/expectations of the Army players, coaches and faithful flow silently into the darkness of Philadelphia (Pa.).

With the fumble, Army not only lost possession but also lost their hopes of ending the losing drought to Navy.

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