The two-hour ride back from Philadelphia gave me some time to try and digest Army’s 17-13 loss to Navy.
I’ve seen many tough Army losses in my six years on the beat. At times, Army has created new ways to lose games. But, this one was by far the most gut-wrenching for the team.
I asked senior quarterback Trent Steelman the first two questions of Army’s postgame press conference and you can hear the hurt in his voice.
Times Herald-Record writer Will Montgomery and I spoke with Steelman’s brothers Tanner and Tyson and sister Whitney at a tailgate three hours before kickoff. The entire Steelman family was emotionally invested in this game.
Trent Steelman took the blame for Army’s fumble at Navy’s13 with 1:03 left. Fullback Larry Dixon told columnist Kevin Gleason the lost fumble on an exchange was his fault.
Maybe, it was neither player’s fault. Army just doesn’t seem to have the best of luck when it plays Navy.
It just didn’t seem fair that Navy freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds was celebrating a win while Steelman was letting all of his emotions out on Sgt. Maj. Todd Burnett’s shoulder.
Steelman may not have defeated Navy in his career but he earned the respect of the Midshipmen coaches. Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo sought out Steelman during the walk from the singing of Army’s alma matter to Navy’s alma mater. After Navy’s alma mater, coordinators Ivin Jasper and Buddy Green also found Steelman. Classy moves by Navy.
Army may never have a tougher, more physical and dynamic running quarterback than Steelman. Steelman gave it everything he had every time he stepped on the field.
Army coach Rich Ellerson was only asked and answered three or four questions at the postgame press conference. Coach Ellerson was gracious enough to grant me an interview, which lasted about eight minutes, inside Army’s locker room. We first talked about how badly he felt for his senior class, how fundamentals like ball security, special teams play and tackling had failed Army once again and how he felt the better team didn’t leave Philadelphia with a win.
I asked coach Ellerson on how the program could move forward after a devastating loss like this and he said, “We were so close with so much on the line, I can’t tell you that right now. I don’t know that right now. We have to learn to win. We have to practice winning. We have to come out of the gate fast. We got to win games. We have to do all of those things with some kind of regularity. It can’t be novel for us. We are playing a good football team. We have them right by the throat. We could have put them away in the first half. We didn’t have to wait until the end. They are better than Air Force but they are a touchdown better than Air Force. We are better than they are. It’s (crap). It’s (crap).
Ellerson said this game, “has become a monster” for Army, which dropped its 11 straight game to Navy. I asked Ellerson, who seemed down, if he wanted to coach in another Army-Navy game and he said, “Let’s do it right now.” Signs are pointing to Ellerson, who has three more years on his contract, returning for his fifth season. Changes on the coaching staff are likely after Army finished with its worst record (2-10) since an 0-13 season in 2003.
Bad tackling and fumbles continued kill the program’s chances for progress. Ellerson said he’s never worked on ball security more than with this team and something is not working. Army has lost 42 fumbles in the last two seasons.
Army may have suffered a blow for next season. Freshman rover Alex Meier appeared to have suffered a serious left knee injury early in the fourth quarter. Meier, who had 10 tackles and a fumble recovery, was on crutches when the game ended. Ellerson talked about the possibility of moving Meier to middle linebacker in spring practice.
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