Army linebacker Kalib Fortner scored on a fourth-quarter strip sack and then stuffed quarterback Tai Lavatai six inches from the goal line with 3 seconds left to help the Black Knights beat Navy 17-11 Saturday and win the 124th meeting of the nation’s oldest service academies.
After falling behind 17-3, Lavatai led the Midshipmen to one touchdown to make it a one-score game and then drove them to the Army 6. With no timeouts and about 30 seconds left, Lavatai threw two incomplete passes before hitting Alex Tecza, who was tackled in bounds at the 2.
With no timeouts — and no opportunity to spike the ball on fourth down — Navy scrambled to line up and managed to get the play off. Lavatai surged forward as his whole team pushed — ahead of him and behind — but Army held its ground.
The play was whistled dead, and the replay confirmed the ball never crossed the goal line. To kill the remaining 3 seconds, Army quarterback Bryson Daily took a shotgun snap, hesitated and stepped out of the end zone for an intentional safety.
Army Black Knights players run on the field prior to a game against the Navy Midshipmen at Gillette Stadium Dec. 9, 2023, in Foxborough, Mass. (Edward Diller/Getty Images)
Cadets began to storm the field before being sent back for another review to see if time had expired. The confirmation from the booth set off another wave of Army fans onto the field.
Bryson Daily ran for 84 yards and threw Army’s first touchdown pass against Navy since 2015 to help the Black Knights claim bragging rights for the second straight year and the sixth time in eight tries.
Kanye Udoh ran for 88 yards for Army, which also claimed the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy that goes to the team with the best record in head-to-head matchups against other service academies. The Black Knights upset then-No. 17 Air Force last month.
The matchup of patriots at the Patriots’ stadium brought an injection of pomp and excitement to Gillette Stadium, where the six-time Super Bowl champions have stumbled to a 3-10 record and failed to score in their last home game. New England is on pace for the worst season in Bill Belichick’s three decades as an NFL head coach, stripping some of the shine off the devoted Navy man who is in the discussion for the Greatest Of All Time.
Nathaniel Smith (44) of the Army Black Knights celebrates a sack in the second quarter against the Navy Midshipmen at Gillette Stadium Dec. 9, 2023, in Foxborough, Mass. (Edward Diller/Getty Images)
Wearing gold uniforms that paid tribute to the Dogface Soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division, Army took a 10-0 lead against a Navy team that had zero pass completions at the half.
Lavatai, Navy’s backup quarterback, replaced started Xavier Arline in the second quarter, rushing for 74 yards and completing 16 of 26 passes for 176 yards. Lavatai drove Navy into field position early in the fourth to make it 10-3.
But with about five minutes left, Fortner punched the ball out, picked it up on one bounce and scampered 44 yards for a touchdown that gave Army a 17-3 lead.
Lavatai hit Jayden Umbarger from 14 yards out to make it 17-9 with under five minutes left; the two-point conversion failed. After an unsuccessful onside kick, Navy forced a punt and came within inches of a potential game-tying score.
For its 124th edition, America’s Game made its first trip to Massachusetts, where George Washington first took command of the Continental Army and the USS Constitution, the world’s oldest commissioned naval warship.
Army Black Knights cadets react after a touchdown during the 124th Army-Navy game Dec. 9, 2023, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. (M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Organizers squeezed in a weekend of activities at historic sites in the area, including a pep rally, a pull-up competition and debate at Faneuil Hall, a ceremony to mark the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party and a tug-of-war at the Old North Bridge in Concord, the location of “the shot heard ’round the world.”
Nearly 100 buses carried students from West Point and Annapolis to Foxborough, where they took the field in their dress grays and blues in a pregame “march-on of the Brigade of Midshipmen and Corps of Cadets.” Ultramarathon relay teams ran game balls from their campuses, and parachute teams dropped onto the 50 yard-line. New recruits were sworn in during a third-quarter timeout.
Representatives of the two academies gathered at midfield for the coin toss; the Army cadets taped onto their gray overcoats “EAT SQUID”; Navy countered with “NUKE ARMY.”
With the Patriots getting the weekend off after their Thursday night victory in Pittsburgh, Belichick participated in the pregame show, pulling on a Roger Staubach-era Navy helmet to give his prediction. Belichick, who grew up in Annapolis while his father worked as a Navy assistant coach for 34 years, spoke to the players Friday night.