A Handful Of Misery

A handful of plays. One for each finger. Five snaps reverberated throughout a prolonged pigskin passion play. The result couldn't have been any worse for a team that played so hard for so long.

Yes, five short sequences is all it took for Army to waste a tremendous defensive performance in the 108th edition of the Army-Navy Game. Up against Navy's normally unstoppable triple option attack, Army fought the good fight. Navy didn't rack up ridiculous rushing numbers. The vaunted ground game of Paul Johnson's Midshipmen was stuffed by Army's superior defensive front, which showed the run-stopping ability it had demonstrated for most of the season, especially against Wake Forest and Boston College. Army's defense forced five punts from Navy in the game's first 35 minutes. All these things and more suggested that the Black Knights would have stayed in the fight until the final few moments of the Battle of Baltimore.

Instead, Navy racked up a 21-point halftime lead before increasing its lead to 35. Never was a game with a lopsided score so evenly played at the line of scrimmage. Five snaps represented the difference on a day when the Army gray sank because of short but significant lapses in concentration.

Snap number one: Corey Anderson dropped an easy touchdown pass on the game's very first drive. Snap number two: Wesley McMahand fumbles at the Army 6, setting up a Navy touchdown that breaks the game open.

Snap number three: Mike Viti fumbles at the Navy 1 with the Black Knights on the verge of narrowing a 21-point lead to 14 midway through the third quarter.

Snap number four: Navy converts a 4th and 4 by an achingly small margin, as Zerbin Singleton barely gains an alley and falls forward to move the chains by half a yard, setting up a touchdown for the Midshipmen.

Snap number five: Owen Tolson's punt is blocked, translating into yet another seven points for Navy a few short plays later.

This wasn't a blowout in the true sense. Army's best defensive strength was superior to Navy's foremost offensive strength. It was an inability to perform on offense and special teams that destroyed the Black Knights in this game. Five snaps were enough to rob Army of 14 points while giving Navy 21 points. Add 14 and 21, and you have 35, the final margin of Saturday's game in the home of the Baltimore Ravens. If you add a Reggie Campbell kickoff return and an improbable 51-yard field goal, you could say that seven snaps led to a 45-point differential in this game. That's almost unheard of at any level of football, but on one afternoon, the Black Knights were left wondering how so few plays could possess such a large impact.

Army's effort was hardly deficient; in fact, the fight and resolve displayed by Stan Brock's bunch was better than it had been in the past. Mistakes--big ones, and at the worst possible time--overwhelmed this ballclub, which is discovering what Navy felt when Army always seemed to pull out close wins in the 1990s. This decade, it's the Navy who's gettting the gravy.

Future seasons--with this kind of determination and defensive excellence--could lift Army to victory against the rival from Annapolis. There's a lot to like about the energy that's a part of the Army program. But in future seasons, the Black Knights need to find better football technicians who can execute with precision and polish, especially in money situations. Without prime performances from clutch playmakers, Army will continue to find itself on the losing side of this rivalry.

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