Published December 10, 2011
LANDOVER, Md. – Playing his last game before he goes to SEAL training, Alexander Teich absolutely, positively, emphatically did not want to be known as a member of the Navy team that finally lost to Army.
The fullback was out there returning kickoffs, something he hadn't done all year. He was running over to the stands to fire up the Brigade of Midshipmen that took up a quarter of the lower bowl of the Washington Redskins stadium.
It took a bit more suspense than usual, but Teich and the Midshipmen made it a perfect 10 against the Black Knights, winning 27-21 Saturday in the 112th edition of one of the most passionate rivalries in sports.
"I'm an emotional person — I don't know if you guys noticed yet," the senior captain said with a smile. "I was amped. You don't want to let that ball drop in on the senior class, and I was going to do whatever it took."
With President Barack Obama presiding over the first Army-Navy game to be played in the vicinity of the nation's capital, the Mids (5-7) got a pair of touchdown runs from quarterback Kriss Proctor and one from Teich to win their 10th straight in the rivalry.
At least this one was close. Navy had won the other nine by at least a dozen points. The Mids needed a pair of fourth-quarter field goals from Jon Teague and a fourth-down stop in their own territory before those in the blue uniforms could start chanting "10 more years!"
It eased the sting — and then some — of Navy's disappointing season. The Mids had a streak of eight straight bowl appearances come to an end this year.
"Whatever it is — we're not playing in a bowl game, we are playing in a bowl game — to beat Army for a decade is unheard of," said Proctor, also a senior. "To do anything 10 straight times is hard to do."
Consolation will be harder to come by for Army, though at least Black Knights linebacker Andrew Rodriguez beat out a Navy player — guard John Dowd — among others to win the William V. Campbell Trophy as the nation's top senior scholar-athlete
For Army's graduating class, the sting won't ever go away, even if they did finally make a game of it.
"'Almost' — it doesn't work. But it's something I have to live with now," Black Knights senior linebacker Steven Erzinger said. " 'Almost' is my legacy now."
Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, worked the Navy sidelines before the game, shaking hands and even getting a hug from the mascot — a goat wearing a Santa hat. The president performed a left-handed coin toss at midfield — Army won and elected to receive — then adhered to presidential tradition by spending a half on each side of the field. He switched from Navy to Army with an escorted walk on the 50-yard line from sideline to sideline in a formal halftime ceremony.
As always, the pageantry was breathtaking, starting with the Army Corps of Cadets' march onto the field three hours before kickoff. Then the Brigade of Midshipmen took their turn. Both sides taunted each other in good spirits — "Why so quiet?" was the Navy chant after the Mids took a 14-0 lead — and beach balls and even an inflatable snake were batted while slick scoreboard videos poked fun at one academy or the other.
But there were also stirring moments of tribute for the crowd of 80,789; both sides swayed and sang loudly when Lee Greenwood performed "God Bless the U.S.A." at halftime.
Proctor ran 32 times for 97 yards, and Teich carried 18 times for 93 yards. Navy ran for 296 yards and completed only one pass in the tussle between rush-heavy, triple-option teams.
And how did Teich do returning kickoffs? His 48-yard return to open the second half led to a touchdown.
But it was the mention of Teague that brought coach Ken Niumatalolo to the brink of tears after the game. Navy's kicking game was an adventure all season, and the senior kicker had made only 8 of 13 entering the game.
"Some of the things that were said about that kid, some personal things that were said about him," Niumatalolo said, "I mean, these are just college kids playing football, and some people said some things like he committed a crime or something. I'm just so very happy for him."
Raymond Maples and Malcolm Brown rushed for 82 yards apiece for Army (3-9), which finished the season with four straight losses and now trails the overall series 56-49-7. The Black Knights, who have the top rushing team in the nation, ran for 298 yards and completed only four passes.
Army had a chance to win in the fourth quarter, but Navy linebacker Matt Warrick read the triple option perfectly to stop quarterback Trent Steelman on fourth-and-7 at the Mids' 25 with 4:31 remaining.
"The big thing to take away from this is never feel like this ever next year," Army junior linebacker Nate Combs said. "I'm tired of this feeling."
Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP