Fumble return dooms Army, 31-17

PHILADELPHIA-- Ricky Dobbs passed for 186 yards and two touchdowns as Navy won its ninth straight over Army, 31-17. Trailing 17-7 late in the second quarter and with the ball at the Navy three, Army had a chance to make a game of it.

However, Army's Trent Steelman fumbled at the one and Navy's Wyatt Middleton returned the ball 98 yards for a touchdown that gave the Mids a seemingly insurmountable 24-7 halftime lead.

On its first drive of the second half Army promptly drove the field 47 yards in 12 plays before the Black Knight drive bogged down after a Navy sack of Steelman. However, Alex Carlton's 42-yard field goal pulled the Black Knights to within two scores at 24-10 with 6:52 to go in the quarter.

Richard King thwarted another Navy scoring threat late in the third quarter when he intercepted a Dobbs pass in the end zone but Army was unable to sustain a drive. Navy then put together a 13 play, 87 scoring drive that ate up most of the fourth quarter. A 25-yard touchdown scamper by Navy's Gee Gee Greene put the Mids back up by three scores, 31-10, with 5:44 to go in the game. The Mids converted on four third downs during that drive, two of them the result neutral zone infractions by Army linebacker Stephen Anderson.

The Black Knights, with their backs to the wall, answered the Navy score but time was running out. The Cadets put together a 5-play, 80-yard drive to again pull within two scores of the Mids. Steelman found Malcolm Brown over the middle for a 45-yard scoring reception. It was Brown's second touchdown catch of the day and Army had pulled to within 31-17 with 4:05 left in the game.

After an Army squib kickoff, Navy was forced to punt after a quick three-and-out series. Army drove deep into Navy territory with a chance to pull within a score of Navy. But Steelman was sacked for a big loss and then on fourth down just missed making the first down. Navy celebrated with less than 10 seconds remaining as their offense went on the field for the victory formation.

It was another frustrating loss for the Black Knights who now trail their rivals in the all-time series 49-55-7 and have lost nine in a row.

"It hurts just as bad as any other loss against them. Just the fact that we were so ready for this game, and we came in and played so hard the entire game, it's just unfortunate," said Army quarterback Trent Steelman. "I value the ball more than anything in the world and to see that slip out like that and turn it around for a touchdown was a heartbreaker."

Navy drew first blood with 11:57 remaining in the initial quarter when Joe Buckley connected on a 36-yard field goal to put the Mids up, 3-0. After one of several Army three-and-out drive, Dobbs found an open John Howell for a 77-yard touchdown reception to put the Mids up 10-0 with 8:44 to go in the first quarter.

Early in the second quarter Dobbs' 32-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Turner built the Navy lead to 17-0 and it looked like the Midshipmen would run away easily with another lopsided victory.

Army got the break it was looking with 11:24 remaining in the second quarter when Navy's Alexander Teich fumbled at the Mid 22. Raymond Maples ran to the Navy five-yard line to set up a third-and-1 situation. Steelman then found Brown for a 5-yard scoring catch. It was Army's first touchdown scored against the Mids since 2006 and had made the score a workable 17-7 with 8:40 to go in the first half.

The Black Knight were given another golden opportunity in with 7:20 to go in the half. Josh McNary forced a Dobbs fumble that was recovered at the Army 48. The Cadets would drive deep into the Navy territory before the disastrous fumble by Steelman.

A somber Army head coach Rich Ellerson agonized in the loss but gave credit Navy.

"Give them credit," said Ellerson. "They threw and caught really well. We need to make some plays on the back end. We crawled back in with turnovers and we shut the door on ourselves with turnovers."

Army falls to 6-6 and will play SMU in the Armed Forces Bowl in Dallas on December 30. Navy improves to 9-3 and will next face San Diego State on December 23 in the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego.

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