PHILADELPHIA — Army-Navy is more than just a football game, it’s an event that honors not just the players but their fellow students, as well as past and current service members.
Before the start of this year’s game, thousands of screaming fans looked on as exchange students from each service academy marched toward the center of Lincoln Financial Field.
This was the culminating moment for them and their semester “behind enemy lines,” having spent the fall at their rival institution as part of the service academy exchange program.
As each line of students made the ceremonial switching of sides and an about-face, the stadium erupted as they raced back to their sidelines and jumped into the welcoming arms of their fellow cadets and midshipmen in the crowd.
“It was awesome,” said Cadet Calvin Lu, U.S. Military Academy. “The only thing going through our minds was don’t trip, don’t trip, don’t trip, make it there.”
They made it alright and that set the tone for a day that no one would soon forget.
In between the blocked punts and 77-yard touchdown runs, service members and their families were honored. There were family reunions with Soldiers who had been gone on deployment and recognition of wounded warriors and the programs designed to support them.
In the third quarter, the Army took some time to highlight the best of the best of 2022. Some of those honored were winners from the inaugural Best Squad Competition.
“To be invited here by the top leaders in the Army, to go on the field and be recognized by everybody that’s here, it’s amazing,” said Sgt. Garrett Paulson, noncomissioned officer of the year from U.S. Army Medical Command. “It really means a lot to me and my family and everyone I work with.”
This year’s competition tested Soldiers from around the world with the squad from U.S. Army Special Operations Command, 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment taking the title.
“It [this competition] showed how well we really work together as a squad,” said Sgt. Coy Anderson, best squad member. “It showed how well we integrate as teammates to solve problems and accomplish tasks.”
Future military members were also honored as some of the newest recruits in the military took the oath of enlistment on the field.
As day turned to night, the players brought the attention back to the game as they provided some fireworks to close things out. After tying the game at 10 and sending the matchup to overtime for the first time in series history, Army quickly struck first with a 25-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Markel Johnson.
Navy would counter back in dizzying fashion on the very next play with a 25-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Xavier Arline to sophomore wide receiver Maquel Haywood, sending the game to double overtime.
Things looked to be swinging in the Navy’s favor until Army forced a fumble at the goal line denying the go-ahead score. With Navy failing to score on their possession, it meant all Army needed was a field goal to win.
That set the stage for Quinn Maretzki as he nailed the game-winning 39-yard field goal that sent the Corps of Cadets storming the field.
It was a captivating ending to a day filled with highlights for everyone involved.