Army survived a late-game rally by Navy to claim a 43-38 win in Saturday's arena-football contest in Philadelphia. (Danette Bartholomew/Legacy Imagez)
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The streak is over. Well, one of them.
Thanks to a tenacious pass rush and a late-game stop that stalled a Navy comeback, the Army representatives in Saturday’s Army-Navy arena football game in Philadelphia earned a 43-38 victory, avenging last year’s loss and marking the first Army football victory in the rivalry series of any sort since 2001.
The game served as a capstone for nearly a week’s worth of events put on by sponsor The Judge Group and other organizations in the Philadelphia area designed to showcase employment opportunities for veterans. About a dozen Naval Academy graduates, including former starting quarterback Ricky Dobbs, lined up for the blue squad, but the Army team consisted of veterans, players with family members who’d served, and exactly one West Point graduate — Reserve Capt. Alex Moore, offensive lineman and team captain.
“They were definitely stacked,” said Moore, who captained the Black Knights in 2002. “We just had a real hungry team.”
Army led 28-2 at halftime thanks in part to an interception return for a touchdown. Navy earned its two points when the Army quarterback accidentally stepped out of his own end zone, likely still getting accustomed to the smaller playing field.
Navy moved to a ground-based attack in the third quarter, triggering a comeback and negating Army’s pass rush, led by Tyreek Spain, a former Temple defensive end whose father served in the Army.
“They really made it somewhat of a game and kept pushing,” Moore said. “We were having trouble moving the ball.”
With their captain rallying them from the sideline — Moore remembered offering motivational lines like “Hey, the Army doesn’t quit. Anywhere” — the defense held in the closing seconds.
Spain wasn’t the only contributor for Army who had never worn a soldier’s uniform. Aside from other defensive standouts, Army had Jen Welter, already considered the first female professional football player in a contact position, whose father served in Vietnam.
“She meshed right away,” Moore said of Welter, who flew in from Texas for the contest. “She played special teams, mostly. She laid out one of the Navy returners ... fun to watch.”
Perhaps in part because of these contributors, Navy players told The (Annapolis, Maryland) Capital after the contest that future games should work toward becoming alumni-only affairs. Moore wasn’t opposed to the idea, but said Army faces higher hurdles than Navy in fielding such a squad.
“It’d be extremely difficult, [a] logistical mess for us,” he said. “The guys that are in port [for Navy], on shore duty, they’re much more centrally located. For us, there’s multiple military posts. And a lot of the former [Army] players are banged up, from combat overseas.”
The Navy squad held workouts in Norfolk, Virginia, for example — an advantage Army couldn’t match, lacking such a massive hub of active and former service members.
The game drew more fans than the inaugural outing, event organizer Joe Krause said Monday, and the smaller venue — a 2,500-seat arena that hosts University of Pennsylvania hockey, instead of the Wells Fargo Center, home to the Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers — contributed to a more boisterous atmosphere. Krause could not provide attendance figures by Tuesday.
The game had been scheduled to air live on ESPN3. Krause said he was not clear why the network didn’t choose to pick up the contest, but was hopeful the network would air a replay of the event at a to-be-determined date.
There was one bit of tradition left out, but Moore handled it after he returned home from the arena.
“When I got back to my apartment, because I live in Philadelphia, I cut the tape off my ankles and played the Army song and sang second,” Moore said, “for all the guys that I wish were with me.”