In what was nearly Army’s first win over Navy in 10 years, a late fumble on the almost-game winning drive secured an 11th straight victory for the Midshipmen over Army. The end of the game ended up being a battle with a costly turnover being the difference in what was a fantastic fourth quarter to remember.
In what is college football’s best and most true rivalry (sorry SEC and Michigan/Ohio State fans), this match-up of the true heroes of our country was both a joy to watch and a privilege to be around the atmosphere.
But of course, my job at the game in the pressbox was focused on the talent evaluation aspect. Despite each player having to wait at least 3 and generally 4 years to get their NFL shot, it’s not unheard of in recent history for players on these two teams to get NFL looks in the future.
While this game is mostly about tradition and a competitive match-up of two bitter rivals, two NFL teams (the Seahawks and Titans) were in attendance, and likely many more will keep notes on players in this game. Four NFL players have attended Army or Navy since 2009, including FB Colin Mooney of the Tennessee Titans. Also, in 2008, Army safety Caleb Campbell was drafted in the 6th round.
I was focused on four players specifically from this game that I had targeted before the game as seniors with potential next level upside.
Josh Jackson, CB, Army – It’s not easy being a cornerback in an a game that features an option-focused opponent, but Jackson actually was tested more than most (including Army) likely expected. Navy threw more than usual passes in this game, including four (by my count) in Jackson’s direction. Jackson only allowed one catch (a quicker, screen pass while he was in 7 yard depth), and seemed to get focused immediately after the initial one in his downfield coverage. After a very solid performance against Northern Illinois, I thought Jackson had some future NFL upside. He’s got the raw athletic ability, solid hips, and showcased block-shedding at the second and third level to make plays in run support. Not a quite a lock to be a future NFLer, Jackson may have the easiest transition for the future.
Trent Steelman, QB, Army – The four year starter at quarterback, Steelman has missed just three games in his career at Army. Running the triple option isn’t something for the weak, and if you thought Tim Tebow or Colin Klein took beatings in their career, Steelman is a true ironman. While he played very well down the stretch as a passer, he lacks the size, arm strength, accuracy, and pocket poise/experience to even be an AFL/CFL quarterback, his toughness, physicality as a runner, and body control in traffic to potentially be an athlete at the next level if he ever chooses football after this service. But he played a fantastic game, exuded how much this game means for these Army Cadets, and capped off a career to remember.
Keegan Wetzel, OLB, Navy – The team’s most disruptive in the backfield defender, Wetzel didn’t get a chance to show off his pass rushing skills and ability to finish tackles in the backfield in this game. Still, he showed the ability to stay at home, keep tight down the line, and extend to separate and get to his gap. He’s a little stiff in the hips and doesn’t sink well enough to be expected to shed at the next level. Still, he finished his Navy career with a fantastic season and certainly showed the hustle and tackle finishing ability that has given him success over his career.
Gee Gee Greene, RB, Navy – The quick footed, versatile playmaker for Navy, Greene wasn’t able to be as explosive as usual thanks to Army collapsing to the outside and the play of the Army defensive backs when Greene was lined up at receiver. Greene possesses quick feet, showed some vertical ability as a receiver and a fantastic top gear in the open field. While this game wasn’t the ideal way to end his career at Navy, but his success this season and explosive ability could give the 5’8, 190 playmaker a chance to play at the next level.
Overall, it was a fantastic game to cover and evaluate, and the effort, focus, and toughness showed consistently by both teams. While Navy escaped with a win, it was a fantastic, physical send-off for these seniors and a great sign for two consistently-hard fighting programs with limited yet highly desired players.
Army vs. Navy couldn’t be a better way to end the college football season. The battling chants of “Go Army, Beat Navy” and “Go Navy, Beat Army” throughout the stadium here at Lincoln Financial Field sends a wave of patriotic and competitive team spirit that few (if any) stadiums can ever truly exhibit.
The 113th game was a fantastic one to attend, watch, evaluate, and thoroughly enjoy. I encourage everyone, especially in the northeast, to at least consider attending this remarkably unique game.
113 games down, and the record still leans Navy’s way. But here’s to a 113 more games to give Army a chance to begin rallying back in the series record. Regardless, this game is a chance to celebrate American Heroes through America’s Game. And that’s something that every football fan should cherish.