That is the only way to describe Army's 17-13 loss to Navy in the 113th Army-Navy game in Philadelphia. Army was 14 yards away from winning and breaking a decade-long streak of losses to its archrival.
With 4:34 remaining, Army trailed by four points. Navy had just scored on an eight-yard touchdown run by freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds. Army took over after the kick on its own 17, and an offside brought the ball back to the 12.
The Black Knights' senior quarterback Trent Steelman—intent on finishing his career with one win over Navy—led an impressive drive up the field. Sophomore fullback Larry Dixon ran for 12 yards, and then Steelman completed two passes to sophomore Chevaughn Lawrence to reach the Navy 28-yard line. Runs by Dixon, junior Raymond Maples and Steelman brought Army to the Navy 14-yard line with a first down.
Then it happened.
Steelman ran the dive play to Dixon, who can make a big gain if given a hole of any size. Somehow the exchange was fumbled, the ball went to the ground and Navy's Barry Dabney recovered.
Game over, mission over, football careers over for the Army seniors.
Navy won the game and took home the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, extending its winning streak over Army to 11 games.
After the Army-Navy game, the losing team sings its alma mater first, and then the winning team "Sings Second", the most sought-after moment in service academy football.
The Army players stoically stood in front of their cheerleaders, band and nearly 4,000 members of the Corps of Cadets. The Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno stood with them as did the entire Navy team.
Then Army went over to the Navy corner of the field to hear a jubilant rendition of the Naval Academy alma mater, "Navy Blue and Gold." The Navy players climbed the stands to celebrate with their classmates. Chief of Navy Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert posed for a photo with a football jersey and a group of fans.
The emotions were high as the Army players headed off the field. Two family members hugged and consoled Steelman. It was a Wide World of Sports moment of agony for the Army players and fans. Even the Army cheerleaders cried.
It meant that much to them.
Later, the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy was awarded to the Navy team. The Navy seniors, a great group in its own right, will be known as a class that "Beat Army" all four of its years.
Navy will go on to play Arizona State in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco on December 29th. The Midshipmen have found a great young quarterback in Reynolds. He has both a strong arm and dazzling speed.
In the postgame press conference, Josh Jackson, Maples and Steelman bravely took a few questions. Maples ran for 156 yards, but a fumble early in the second quarter led to Navy's first scoring drive. The Philadelphia native said, "We were moving the ball down the field, they were tired and we knew it. Our offense prepares us for moments like that, but life doesn't always go your way."
Jackson played tough defense at cornerback but fumbled a punt early in the second half that cost Army an opportunity when it had been building momentum. He said, "It hurt's, I'll tell you that it hurts. It just did not go our way."
Trent Steelman looked exhausted, his face red with emotion, his black uniform pants and legs covered with dirt. When asked about the outcome and the crucial fumble that ended the last drive, he said:
I thought we had it, it was a routine triple option for us, I don't know what happened. We were wearing them down and there was nothing that was going to stop us, but that is life, things don't always go your way sometimes. You have to be able to turn around.
Steelman went on to say that he wanted to accept the blame for the devastating fumble and not have fault rest on any other player.
Army head coach Rich Ellerson described the long pass play that Navy completed to score its winning touchdown: "We were in coverage, but they did a nice job of throwing and catching. We would have liked to have made a play on the ball on that pass, but we were in coverage."
In the hallway afterwards, Coach Ellerson described what he said to the players after the game in what must have been an emotional moment, "[I] told them to stay together, they have a lot of good memories to be proud of."
For Army players, it was a very painful loss when it looked like the day would be theirs for much of the game. Army ran for 370 yards and out-gained Navy 418 to 297. Four Army trips deep inside the Navy 24-yard line produced only one field goal.
The differences in the game were three lost fumbles and Army not completing its drives for touchdowns.
Losing the last game of a college career is always disappointing and painful. Seniors remember their last game forever, especially when it is on a big stage like the Army-Navy game. The Army seniors received their branch assignments last week and will work now toward graduation and commissioning as officers in May.
The current players on both teams may watch future Army-Navy games from distant lands or ships as they serve to defend this country.
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