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Army Comes Back to Defeat Navy

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Army Comes Back to Defeat Navy

Army's lineout strength helped lead to victory. Colleen McCloskey photo.

Two late tries from freshman Bailey Abercombie sparked Wast Point in a comeback victory over arch rivals Navy at Army’s Anderson Rugby Complex Saturday.

In a typically physical and tense encounter between the two teams, played before a packed house on a chilly afternoon at the US Military Academy, Army trailed 18-7 at on point, but finally solved the Navy defense lat to win it 24-18. Navy had the ball and the momentum at the end of the gam, and worked their way slowly through close to 20 phases after time was up, but some indecision between two Navy players produced a knock-on, and the game ended.

Navy opened the scoring early with a penalty goal from No. 8 Conor McNerney.  Army responded, breaking through for long runs twice. But somehow the Navy cover defense stopped the charge each time. And after weathering the pressure for several minutes, Navy got into the Army half after stealing a scrum put-in, and eventually a penalty for not releasing the tackled player gave McNerney another opportunity, and he duly made it 6-0. 

Navy did well to rush up on defense in the backline, preventing Army from getting the ball out wide. Even when they set up their speedy fullback, Jake Lachina, West Point ran into difficult as the Navy defenders swarmed him. Lachina tried to cut back, but only met white shirts when he did.

The Black Knights, however, did finally break through. A penalty led to a lineout, and after a long series of phases on the Navy tryline, flyhalf Jon Kim sent a long pass to wing Jeff Mlalm-Annan, who kept his head and curled around to score. Kim slotted the conversion and Army led 7-6 29 minute in.

Navy used the restart to put Army under pressure, and after a good run from lock Piper Thaller, they worked their way close and scrumhalf Gardy Lebon wriggled through two tacklers and was over just before halftime. McNerney converted and Navy held a 13-7 lead.

Soon it was 18-7 after Army’s Abercrombie was yellow-carded for not rerating 10 meters on a free kick. The professional foul put Army on the back foot. McNerney’s penalty attempt hit the post and it was all scary for Army for a time. Eventually Navy got the ball back and after a series of bashes against the Army line, Navy’s Thaler powered over for the 18-7 lead.

But slowly Army started to adjust. While they struggled to win the scrum ball they would expect - they were pinged for a couple of key penalties - they looked very solid in the lineout and stole several of Navy’s throws. For Navy, no-wrap tackles got them in sufficient trouble. A quick tap from sub scrumhalf Harrison Farrell saw him slip through some trouble and set it up for sub prop Austen Deppe. Kim converted and it was 18-14 Navy leading.  

Another penalty against Navy led to a Navy lineout, a maul, and Abercrombie was the man on the spot for a crucial try. Kim missed the converted, but now Army was in the lead and had the momentum 19-18. Navy’s restart didn’t go ten and from the scrum-center, Army was again on the move. And at this moment Navy’s much-improved defense let them down. Abercrombie got a pass on the wing, sold a dummy, and broke through the grasps of two players who normally tackle reliably. Off he ran, and scored from about 35 meters out.

It was a killer blow, and would perhaps have been the end of things had Kim’s conversion attempt gone through instead of hitting the post.

So Navy had one more shot. They worked through the phases, and a penalty, and more phases. Army’s defense held very well, and finally a pass sort of to one player and sort of to another ended up not claimed by either, and the game was over.

The physicality of this game can hardly be overstated. Every tackle was made as if the game depended on it. The collisions were immense. Tactically, both teams had a smart game plan, and both teams had a few had-scratcher moments. For Navy McNerney was immense, Lebon excellent, and their midfield defense was superb. For Army, the tight five worked enormously hard and former Jesuit-Sacramento star Abercrombie had a big game, but it was the subs in the second half, especially Farrell, who sparked the comeback.

Army wins the Commander-in-Chief Trophy, having beaten Air Force, as well. One more note - referee Lex Weiner did extremely well managing a game of massive intensity. 


Army 24

Tries: Malm-Annan, Abercrombie 2, Deppe

Convs: Kim 2


Navy 18

Tries: Lebon, Thaler

Convs: McNerney 2

Pens: McNerney