By Mr. Matt Decker (Leonard Wood)December 15, 2016
Fort Leonard Wood's Navy and U.S. Marine Corps detachments made history Saturday at Gerlach Field, with their combined team earning a 28-20 overtime victory in the post's annual Army vs. Navy flag-football game. It was the first win for the Navy team in the 14-year history of the series.
"I can't believe that just happened," Ty Hendren said moments after the Navy defensive swatted down the ball on the final passing attempt by the Army on a fourth-and-goal play from the 5-yard line that ended the game.
"This is the first time we've ever beat them. I was just like 'wow,' because we actually did it -- and we were the ones to do it," Hendren said.
Navy students filed out of the stands and onto the field to congratulate the Navy players, who battled the Army team in below-freezing and windy conditions throughout the contest.
"It's cold, but that's the way we like it," said wide receiver Tate Blenke, a Marine captain who had multiple receptions and two touchdowns. "I loved the camaraderie. I loved getting a chance to come out here and play the Army -- it's always fun when we can beat the Army. It's been a long time coming."
For some team members, including team captains Justin Meadors and Randy Bacon, taking possession of the winner's plaque was the culmination of years of effort.
"I'm overwhelmed," Meadors said. "For three years I've been playing this game with my co-captain, Randy Bacon. We've been chasin' this."
Although he scored more than half his team's points, Blenke said the key to victory came down to defense.
"Defense -- that's all it is. When you're playing flag football, seven on seven, the adage holds true: offense scores points but defense wins games," Blenke said. "Our turnovers, especially, helped us do that, and getting that last pick gave us the win."
The Navy defense asserted itself early, with two sacks by Donald Kidd forcing the Army to turn the ball over on downs on its opening series.
Navy quarterback Rodrick Rumble then led a 60-yard drive, including two completions to Blenke that put the ball on the 5-yard line. From there, Rumble made a touchdown pass to Dan Burton in the end zone, and a short pass to Blenke completed the two-point conversion for an 8-0 lead.
It didn't take long for the Army team to respond. Armond Patterson gave the Army a strong start, running the ball to the 45-yard line on the ensuing kick-off. A 27-yard pass from quarterback Justin Cramer to Patterson and a penalty against the Navy defense put the ball at the 10-yard line. From there, Cramer threw a short pass to Waddell Tollison, who ran the ball into the end zone for six points. The Army's two-point conversion attempt failed, however, leaving the Navy with an 8-6 lead.
The Navy scored on its next series, with Rumble throwing a 10-yard pass to Blenke, who ran the ball in the final 10 yards for a touchdown. However, Army defensive back Demetrius Smedley intercepted a Rumble pass in the end zone to kill the two-point conversion attempt.
Trailing 14-6 as the final seconds of the first half ticked away, the Army scored on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Cramer to Smedley. With time expired, Cramer ran the ball into the end zone for the two-point conversion, tying the game 14-14.
Each team would add six points in the second half. Cramer scored the Army's touchdown on a one-yard quarterback keeper, while the Navy notched its second Rumble-to-Blenke touchdown pass play of the game on the next series. But neither team would find the end zone again during the half, with the Army defense fending off the Navy offense as time expired.
Heading into overtime, each team got a chance to score from the 20-yard line. Having won the coin toss and electing to defend the north goal, the Army tried to hold the Navy at bay. But on a fourth-down-and-goal play from the 1-yard line, Rumble threw a short pass to Kidd in the end zone to take a six-point lead. Seconds later, a pass from Rumble to Burton would make it an eight-point Navy lead.
"It was just as fun as I thought it was going to be," Rumble said. "We came with no expectations. We wanted to win, of course, but the fact that we were having fun doing it was our biggest strength."
The Army now leads the flag-football series 12 games to 1. Although the 14th year for the series, the 2006 game was canceled due to inclement weather.
For this year, however, Meadors summed up his feelings and the feelings of several of his teammates with one simple phrase when asked how it felt to walk off the field a winner: "Go, Navy! Beat Army!"