By Joe Lacdan, Army News ServiceDecember 8, 2018
PHILADELPHIA -- Despite being his fourth time seeing it, the annual Army-Navy game did not lose any significance for Cadet Jack Ray Kesti as he cheered from the stands in the frigid temperatures.
The rivalry has become an annual tradition in the Kesti household. Kesti, who hails from nearby Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, had his parents and girlfriend cheering for the Black Knights from the stands, too. Kesti's younger brother Sam, a freshman, also attends the U.S. Military Academy and was at the game.
"Seeing people in your class and seeing them do well on the football field is a really cool feeling," Kesti said.
Cadet Hope Moseley, a freshman, attended her first game, in which the Black Knights upended Navy 17-10 and held off a late Midshipmen surge Saturday night. It was the No. 22 Black Knights' third straight win over their rival.
Army improved to 10-2 and will play Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl Dec. 22. If Army gets 11 wins this year, it will be its best season since 1958 when it went undefeated with one tie and finished No. 3 in the country.
Moseley said the buildup to the contest had been mounting all week. Cadets hung banners in the student barracks, played flag football games and burned a boat in anticipation of Saturday's game.
"It's a great experience of tradition," said Moseley, a native of Belton, Texas. "Even though it's a rivalry, it shows how strong our bond is to our country."
Moseley said she was inspired to apply to the academy by her cousin, Maj. Andrea Baker, a West Point graduate stationed in San Diego.
President Donald Trump officiated the coin toss and also briefly visited the sidelines of both teams. During the first half, Gen. James McConville, the Army's vice chief of staff, enlisted 21 Army recruits in a special ceremony. McConville, who graduated in West Point's Class of 1981, said he has attended "quite a few" Army-Navy rivalry games during his career, and said the contest's significance cannot be overstated.
"It's America's game," McConville said. "Why it's special is because of the extraordinary young men and women who represent the best of America and they are here today."
Sporting black and red uniforms in honor of the 1st Infantry Division and its efforts during World War I, Army stormed to a 10-0 lead. After turnovers by both teams, Navy scored on a late drive midway in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 10-7. Army junior quarterback Kelvin Hopkins then scored on a 1-yard sneak for the go-ahead score with 1:28 left in the game.
Cadet Jay Demmy, a sophomore center on the Army rugby team, said the friendships he has formed with fellow athletes on the Black Knights football team makes the contest even more meaningful.
"There's so much history behind this game and so much passion that to me, it's awesome to be a part of it," said Demmy, who hopes to join the infantry after graduation. "Playing a sport here… rugby, coming to the football games and seeing all the guys I know -- all the brothers I'm going to be fighting with in the near future on the field and off the field is nice."
The game takes on a larger significance, making the contest meaningful for so many nationwide, Demmy said.
Many cadets have friends attending the U.S. Naval Academy. Kesti attended high school with Midshipman Joe Ellis and the two engaged in friendly trash talking and texting each other during the game. The annual prisoner exchange, in which students from both service academies attend a semester on the opposite campuses, further extends the bond between the two schools.
"I think [the game] is about camaraderie and coming together," Moseley said, "and knowing that even though you can have a friendly competition, in the end, we're all fighting the same fight for the people of America."
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey, clad in his Army Greens uniform, said that all Soldiers can embrace the history and pageantry of the game, which was attended by celebrities such as actor Mark Wahlberg and former Dallas Cowboys great and Navy graduate Roger Staubach.
"This is a long-standing history of rivalry between two of the finest schools in America," Dailey said. "When we're on the battlefield, we're all friends. But one day out of the year we come together for good camaraderie, good fun, but it is a true test of will for us and the Navy.
"This is the quintessential American football game right here, Army-Navy. It doesn't get better than this."
After the game, Army junior running back Rashaad Bolton proposed to his girlfriend on the field. Although Navy has struggled to a 3-10 record this season, Bolton said the Midshipmen were still a formidable foe.
"Navy's a well-coached team," Bolton said. "We just fought. Our coaches did a great job preparing us these three weeks."
Army coach Jeff Monken, who improved to 43-30 during his five seasons at Army, has credited the West Point student section with providing a much-needed boost to the players. There has been a resurgence of the Army football team, which has gone 20-5 since ending Navy's 14-game winning streak in 2016.
"When the football team's playing well I feel like it brings our school together more, because you get that unity and you get fired up," Demmy said. "Coach Monken preaches that we're the 12th man on the field. Having that good student section, having that uproar brings fire to the people on the field."