Call it the “Pando Plunge.”
Army West Point senior quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw’s 1-yard scoring dive with 5:10 to play, and the ensuing extra point, gave the Black Knights a 14-13 victory Saturday in Philadelphia. But the Mids didn’t go quietly: A missed 48-yard-field goal on the game’s final play spoiled a standout performance by quarterback Malcolm Perry and sent Navy to its second-straight rivalry-game loss.
Bradshaw finished with 94 rushing yards, good enough for best on his team but far behind Perry’s 250-yard, 30-carry effort. The teams combined for three pass attempts, completing two, with their already run-heavy offenses further grounded by the steady snowfall.
As for his final, most meaningful yard of the game, Bradshaw said he had a much-needed assist.
“It was just a quarterback sneak,” said the senior, who would raise the Commander in Chief’s Trophy after the contest. “I felt myself kind of stop ... I felt Andy [Davidson, Army running back] pick me up and kinda walk me into the end zone.”
Bradshaw completed the only pass he threw, a 20-yard strike to junior Calen Holt, earlier in the drive. Aside from a trio of pass attempts, both teams mounted ground assaults that chewed up yards at an impressive clip: Army averaged more than 6 yards per carry.
“Obviously, a disappointing loss,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said after the contest. “This is a great rivalry, it was another classic game. Unfortunately for us, we were on the short end of the stick.”
Decked out in all-white uniforms honoring the “Pando Commandos” of the 10th Mountain Division, Army appeared ready for the wintry clash. Junior Darnell Woolfork capped an 11-play, 68-yard, game-opening drive with 1-yard TD run up the middle to give Army (9-3) a 7-0 lead.
Perry ran the ball nine times on Navy’s first drive, which resulted in a field goal, but his first breakout came on the Mids’ second possession. Down 7-3 and facing a third down in Navy territory, Perry started to his left, but saw his blocking collapse. He paused, cut right and darted 68 yards for Navy’s first touchdown.
“My performance isn’t satisfying unless we win,” Perry said. “We put ourselves in a position to possibly win the game and we didn’t. We made too many mistakes.”
The offenses stalled for the rest of the half; after an Army punt early in the third quarter, Perry was at it again, this time rattling off a 46-yard run on second down to bring the Mids to the Army 11. Senior captain John Voit made the TD-saving tackle, barely, but the Black Knights would allow a field goal to go down 13-7.
“I think I got enough [of him so] he tripped, or slipped in the snow,” Voit said. “Thank God he went down.”
Army’s ensuing drive resulted in a missed field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter, but Navy couldn’t answer, going three plays and out.
That set up a 13-play, 65-yard drive led by Bradshaw, who pushed his way into the end zone on a third-down run. A delayed signal by the officials sent the Army fans among the crowd of more than 68,000 into a frenzy, and a Blake Wilson extra point put the score at 14-13.
Perry again took the bulk of the carries on the Mids’ final drive, including a fourth-down conversion in Army territory with about two minutes to play. That 12-yard run gave Navy a first down at Army’s 25-yard line.
Then came a collapse. A game with few penalties would end with this Navy offensive sequence: false start, 2-yard run, false start and 0-yard gain by Perry, mostly to get the ball near the center of the field for a three-point try with three seconds to play.
“In a close game, it is the team that doesn’t make mistakes” that wins, Niumatalolo said, “and those penalties hurt us.”
Navy kicker Bennett Moehring, who’d hit from 28 and 24 yards already, was wide left and a bit short on his kick. The miss handed the Black Knights their first Commander in Chief’s trophy since 1996 and their first back-to-back rivalry wins since 1995-96.
Army next faces San Diego State in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 23. Navy will host Virginia in Annapolis for the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman on Dec. 28.
NOTES: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson performed the coin toss. ... Perry fell shy of Eddie Meyers’ record for rushing yards in an Army-Navy game; the Mid had 278 yards in 1979. ... Bradshaw added to his single-season Army rushing record, which now sits at 1,566 yards. He should snap the service-academy single-season mark, which stands at 1,587 yards (Napoleon McCallum, Navy, 1983) in Army’s bowl game. ... Army hadn’t won back-to-back rivalry games since 1995-96, which is also the last year the Black Knights won the Commander in Chief’s Trophy.
Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.