14:45 left, first quarter: A pass look on Army's first scrimmage play. That says a lot right there: Ellerson will try to go against tendencies. Smart move. At least plant a seed in the minds of coordinator Buddy Green's Navy defenders.
13:07: Whoa – very close to a blocked punt. Army can't have any disasters in the first 15 minutes. Never a good time for a disaster, but the underdog from West Point must start strong; it's not an option.
11:39: The ball looks to be just two inches short. Navy should be able to make it.
11:05: Army's left defensive end lined up in the neutral zone on fourth and inches, but Navy didn't snap the ball. The Midshipmen – though a favorite and therefore less inclined to take huge risks – should always feel they can get a few inches against Army.
10:57: No go for Ken Niumatalolo. Understandable, but still tentative.
9:20: There's the alert quick snap Navy needed a few moments ago, and Army pounds out a conversion on 3rd and 1.
7:44: Navy is devouring the wide pitch play. Army needs to create a variation.
7:13: FAKE! FAKE! That's what Navy should be thinking, at any rate.
7:05: I personally disagree with Ellerson's decision to kick a long field goal in cold weather (when the ball doesn't carry as well), but give the Army coach credit in this respect: If you're going to test your kicker, Alex Carlton, do so as early as possible. Ellerson's employing a sound thought process, it's just that he had other more compelling options in that situation.
4:34: Now Army eats up a wide-swinging toss sweep. This is a situation where Niumatalolo should definitely be conservative.
3:55: Kyle Delahooke made a game-changing play in last year's Army-Navy Game, but he failed to pin Army deep on that shanked punt.
3:48: Army's been able to gash Navy straight up the middle with Patrick Mealy on a couple of occasions. If Ellerson and his staff can find anything successful on the perimeter, the Black Knights can get Navy's defense on a pendulum.
3:09: Steelman moves the sticks with a fine cutback. He'll need to do more of that… a lot more.
2:00: Damion Hunter. Clank. Unacceptable.
1:55: One dropped pass put the brakes on a drive. Army has no margin for error; a few key mistakes will be very conspicuous today… and costly, too.
1:19: Ricky Dobbs has been turnover prone in 2009, and Steve Erzinger plucks an interception and takes it to the Navy 12. That's what every Army man and woman throughout the globe was hoping for. But now, can the Knights punch the ball into the end zone?
0:25: I don't understand the wide play, given the running of Steelman and Meely inside the tackle box. Huge third down coming up.
0:04: Steelman couldn't give Ali Villanueva a chance to catch the ball. Perhaps Steelman felt Villanueva would run to the side of the end zone, but the hunch here is that the quarterback is supposed to allow his tall tree to win a jump ball from a standstill position. That's on Steelman more than Villanueva; Army's lamentable touchdown-free streak against Navy will extend to nine full quarters.
0:00: At least that kick split the uprights, but it's still a victory for Navy. Army didn't land the first really big blow. Watchers of this rivalry know that the Black Knights need to get a touchdown advantage, at the very least, before they can claim ownership of real-world momentum.
End of first quarter score: Army 3, Navy 0
13:23 left, second quarter: Navy gets a first down despite a bad blocking penalty.
13:07: The mistakes continue to pour forth from a leaky blue-shirted ship. Army's offense doesn't figure to do much today, but if the Midshipmen continue to donate gifts, Rich Ellerson's men will own an Eagle Bank stocking stuffer for Christmas. Rick Neuheisel and his lads in Westwood are hating what they're seeing right now. The folks at UCLA need the extra weeks of practice associated with a bowl bid.
12:22: Army out-thought and out-flanked Navy on a wide play that time. The blocking and ballhandling were superb.
11:41: Ellerson needs to go for it. You have to press the issue as an underdog and strike while Navy's offense is struggling.
11:13: Again, Army can't throw down a thunderbolt after a major Navy mistake. Ellerson told the CBS production crew he'd treat this tilt as a four-down game, but his decisions so far aren't meshing with the words he spoke to Gary Danielson.
9:21: First of all, Navy's left guard committed a false start, and the refs didn't notice it. Second, where was the hold? Third, why did the referee, Brad Allen, fail to announce the penalty to the crowd? Fourth, let's just say it out loud: Navy isn't quite as disciplined this year as it was in previous seasons (including last year). For whatever reason, consistency has been elusive for the Mids in 2009, and they're asking for a loss unless they clean up their act.
9:17: The holding call was legit, but remember, fans, that a false start also occurred on the play, only for the officials to miss it.
9:10: Navy receiver Mario Washington lines up in an ineligible position, Dobbs doesn't adjust the formation, and Washington then offers a limp, one-handed effort instead of getting both paws on a well-delivered Dobbs aerial. Navy's a mess. Army-Navy games are usually studies in discipline, but only the Black Knights (who have struggled with mistakes in their own right this season) are playing error-free ball. Army's not athletically imposing, mind you, but that's a form of inadequacy which is different from sloppiness. The Midshipmen are handing Army ample opportunities to take hold of this tilt.
8:21: Great call, but um, uh, the execution wasn't quite there. Damion Hunter not having his best game today at Lincoln Financial Field.
8:13: Off the top of my head – without checking any stats or doing any Google searches – there have probably been more penalties (including declined ones) in the first 23 minutes than in the previous two or three Army-Navy Games combined. This is usually the national TV game with the fewest penalties. Not so today.
5:00: That was looking like a disaster for Navy, but Dobbs spun out of pressure and made a wise throw-away.
4:10: Another holding penalty. Army's getting a good charge up the middle, but Navy's line has to trust Dobbs enough to move in the pocket and evade defenders. A bitter irony for the Midshipmen is that the two holding penalties have come on spectacular throws from Dobbs.
2:49: Navy linebacker Ram Vela got caught inside and didn't make the proper read. Army gains nine on first down. Danielson noted that Navy gets the ball to start the second half, so the Black Knights need – yes, need – some points here. Just because you're leading doesn't mean you don't need any points. It's not likely that Navy will fail to score at least one touchdown in 60 minutes of action.
2:24: Oh, Ellerson, on 2nd and 1, you need to go pure power and pound out the first down. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, as billions of people have learned in the course of human existence.
1:50: And then on 3rd and 4, the Black Knights come back with the dive play they needed on the previous snap. Not necessarily a lousy display of play calling (though it was), but lousy play SEQUENCING. The Army staff got its priorities mixed up.
1:26: The thought has hit me, and I dare anyone to dispute it: Rich Ellerson is hoping he can win this game by a 3-0 score. That's what it feels like right now in Philadelphia.
1:02: Danielson's right: Michael Gann is having an awesome game, and should be Army's MVP in the first half. He didn't just blow up that run by Dobbs; Gann has been preventing Navy from establishing the fullback (Vince Murray) up the middle, which the Midshipmen depend on for production (and used to great effect in their win at Notre Dame).
0:09: As the teams run toward their locker rooms, there isn't much to say in the way of game keys. Navy's offense needs to wake up, first of all, and then establish Vince Murray. Army has to score a touchdown against the Mids' defense and take a risk on 4th and 2 when deep in Navy territory. This game probably won't end with a 3-0 score, and Army can't expect as much.
Halftime score: Army 3, Navy 0.
13:33 left, third quarter: Bobby Doyle made a remarkable play… no, not the catch, but his abrupt stop and his tap dance down the sideline to stay in bounds and move the chains. That play was going nowhere, and Army figured to get another three-and-out, but Doyle's fancy footwork keeps the drive alive for Navy.
12:04: Andrew Rodriguez is playing a phenomenal game along with Gann. Remember, Army's front seven is doing all this without linebacker Stephen Anderson, a core part of the Black Knights' defensive unit.
10:43: Okay, 4th and 1. A huge confrontation coming up here…
10:09: … After a timeout. Not sure why the Mids would need to call timeout. There's no need for a halfback option pass or anything complicated. Navy needs to re-commit itself to winning battles up front; old-fashioned power is called for. Dobbs, though, needs to change up the snap count; Gann and the rest of Army's linemen are getting off the ball far too easily. It's as though they know when the ball will be snapped.
10:06: That wasn't so hard, Navy, was it? No need for the timeout.
8:55: There's no holding penalty on that touchdown. Navy finally dents the end zone and the scoreboard, and now that tip-toe tightrope by Bobby Doyle looms large as the biggest play of the game. And a mighty roar can be heard in the homes of the UCLA Bruins, their coaches, and their fans.
8:04: Oh, no. Kevin Edwards is the injured player for Navy. That's a big loss; perhaps Army can find one big downfield pass play.
7:46: Not on that snap.
7:05: Memo to Ken Niumatalolo: Have an up-man if you're going to set up a punt return and avoid trying to block the kick. Army's punts have been hitting the ground only 10-15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, and they bounce for 20 yards. Navy's punt return team must be especially mindful of the need to avoid being touched by these very low rugby punts.
3:56: Dobbs and Murray are playing off each other with considerable effectiveness. Dobbs either gives the ball to his fullback or fakes the handoff and runs behind him. The Mids have found their bread-and-butter combo after failing to locate it in the first half.
2:46: Repeat, wash, rinse. Army was expecting a wide play, but Dobbs makes the right read and puts the pigskin in the mitts of Murray, his confident teammate.
1:34: If Army expects to win, it must get a strong stop here (a strong stop meaning something that prevents Navy from having 4th and 1).
0:55: Army gets the strong stop. Huge kick for Joe Buckley here…
0:11: Army kept Navy out of the end zone to stay in the thick of the fight, but those three points are valuable for the Midshipmen. Army can only tie with a touchdown, unless Ellerson decides to roll the dice and go for two (which would be an awesome sight to behold, if it ever emerged).
End of third quarter score: Navy 10, Army 3
13:35 left, fourth quarter: Steelman hits Villanueva, and Army's on the march. We have a four-quarter game this time; no fillers or BCS bowl look-aheads for CBS this year. That's great to see.
12:00: Clutch catch by Villanueva. Terrible fumble by Villanueva. Huge recovery by Villanueva. What a high-wire act that was! First down, Brave Old Army Team!
11:04: On third down, where do you think the ball is going to go? Yeah, me too.
10:59: Um, three yards on 3rd and 6 won't get it done. Finally, Ellerson will go for it on fourth down. He has to.
10:21: WHAT?! Did that just happen? No, not the missed kick, but Ellerson's decision to opt for a field goal in the first place. It bears repeating, one more time: Ellerson told the CBS production crew and analyst Gary Danielson that this was going to be a four-down game. If only the Army boss had the guts to be true to his stated pregame declaration. What's ironic about this turn of events is that Ellerson was ballsy in the regular season against Temple, North Texas, and other opponents, but in the Big Enchilada against the United States Naval Academy, Ellerson has coached like a coward, and no, that's not overly harsh; it's merely a reflection of reality. Army fans have to be shocked and disgusted. This was not what they signed up for against Navy. Underdogs – especially when trailing by seven in the fourth quarter – need to go ALL OUT in the attempt to WIN. The results might not emerge, but Army needs to at least try to tie this game and eventually win it.
8:20: How is that not a block in the back against Army on the punt return?
8:11: Great CBS camera work shows that Russ Pospisil caused that fumble by poking the ball away. We have half a quarter to play, but with Army's offense, even a field goal – which would create a two-possession lead – will just about seal it for Navy. (Seal… pun NOT intended, but I just noticed the wordplay. It's great when one unintentionally stumbles into a pun.)
6:34: Navy barely avoids a complete calamity. Yes, the Mids should expect to get seven, but they at least need to get three. If you think Army wouldn't be able to drive 99 yards and tie the game at 10-10, just remember what happened in 1996. West Pointers cherish that day, while Annapolis residents are cursing this writer for bringing back that stomach punch of a Saturday at Veterans Stadium.
6:15: Touchdown, Navy. Boy, it's going to be a long, long offseason for Rich Ellerson, despite the high-level work he did in Army's first 11 games. The timid nature of Army's fourth-down decision making in this game will cast a shadow over a five-win season. That might not be fair, but Army-Navy matters. Few were expecting the Black Knights to pull off the upset, but every West Pointer was expecting the new coach on the block to pursue victory with boldness and daring. Instead, the 110th Army-Navy Game feels a lot like the 109th… and the 108th… and the 107th… and…
4:29: They're going to get Pospisil for a late hit, and that's a ticky-tack call. The helmet of Mr. Steelman did get hit, but only lightly, and it was NOT helmet-to-helmet contact.
3:37: Army needed a huge, huge break on the Pospisil penalty, but the Black Knights are in the process of taking advantage. Give them credit.
3:10: I spoke too soon. False start, Army, inside the Navy 5.
2:47: There were three blue-shirted defenders around Villanueva on that pass.
2:43: First of all, Army's right guard got out of his stance early for a false start. Secondly, that's defensive pass interference on Navy, without question. The officiating's been hit-and-miss today. If the Black Knights don't get at least eight yards here, Army will almost surely go 12 straight quarters without scoring a touchdown against Navy.
2:36: Steelman gave Villanueva a slight chance to make the catch, but not a good chance, and Vela picks it off in the end zone. Army doesn't even receive the benefit of pinning Navy inside the 5. Ballgame. The only drama left concerns Army's ability to get the ball back and tally a touchdown before the clock hits triple-zero at The Linc.
2:26: Andrew Rodriguez is CBS's Player of the Game. A whopping 15 tackles, 9 unassisted, one forced fumble. Take a bow, sir, even though you'd trade all the stats in the world for a "W" in this contest.
0:39: Army won't score a touchdown. The Black Knights of the Hudson owned a tremendous defense, but their offense and their coaching sank the Army Gray against the Men of Ken. Why Rich Ellerson treated this game so cautiously is a pigskin puzzler that won't ever be understood.
0:05: UCLA will play Temple in the 2009 EagleBank Bowl. Navy goes to 9-4, wins the Commander-In-Chief Trophy outright (again), and defeats Army for the eighth straight time, taking a 54-49-7 lead in this time-honored event.
0:00: Ken Niumatalolo, your tears say what we all feel. God bless and protect these young men as they go from the football field to far more uncertain places in their futures.
Final Score: Navy 17, Army 3.