Not a week passed in the middle of Navy’s season when kicker Jon Teague found himself in front of reporters, never for good reasons.
It was only appropriate, then, Teague was front and center as his senior season concluded – only this time after winning the Army-Navy game in his final game.
Teague connected on a pair of field goals in the fourth quarter to lift the Midshipmen past Army 27-21 at FedEx Field.
“That’s something I’ve always dreamed of,” Teague said. “I’m not going to lie, I’d rather beat Army by four touchdowns. But coming out there today and being able to come out for the team and making those two field goals, it sounds cliché but it’s the best feeling in the world. It really is. I can’t describe it.”
The perfect conclusion capped an up-and-down-and-back-up senior season for Teague, who became the Mids’ full-time kicker this season. In the season opener, he set an academy record with a 54-yard field goal.
What followed was anything but perfect. He missed a 35-yard extra point in overtime against Air Force. His field goal attempt was blocked early in a blowout loss to Southern Mississippi and returned for a touchdown. A potentially game-winning field goal was blocked at Rutgers. A game-tying field goal sailed right on the final play of a loss to East Carolina.
Oh, and those stumbles happed over four consecutive weeks.
Repeatedly, Teague said he couldn’t dwell on misses, and that he intended to treat every kick the same. He did just that Saturday, parlaying three strong weeks of practice into a flawless day for the Mids (5-7).
“I’m so happy for him,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said before pausing and holding back tears. “I mean, it’s just a game. Some of the things that were said about that kid, some personal things that were said about – these are college students playing football. Some people said things like he committed a crime or something. I’m just so very happy for him.”
Teague’s recovery was well underway before Saturday. He made all 14 of his kicks in November (two field goals, 12 extra points) to stabilize what had become a shaky season. Niumatalolo brushed off several questions about whether he would open up a kicking competition.
The truth was Teague was by far the Mids’ best option even when he was struggling. Teammates knew it, too.
“He never got down on himself and nobody on this team gave up on him,” fullback Alexander Teich said. “Coach didn’t give up on him. You didn’t see someone else kicking balls. We were going to live and die by Jon Teague. Those two kicks he made today were the biggest two kicks of the entire season. He was ice.”
Teague made three extra points – clanking one in off the right upright – before being called upon to cap an 18-play drive with a 23-yard field goal with 12:03 remaining. Army (3-9) fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, but Navy mustered nothing to prompt Teague to come back onto the field.
There was little doubt the 44-yarder – Teague’s second longest of the season – would sail safely through when Teague connected with it.
“I’d say courage is the word I’d describe No. 4-5 today,” quarterback Kriss Proctor said. “Offense couldn’t get it done, defense got us the ball back and 4-5 went out there and won us the game.”
Ultimately, that’s what Teague will be remembered for. Not for a record-setting kick in September. Not his struggles in October.
In his program’s grandest stage, Teague followed his own advice, treated each opportunity the same and helped the Mids beat their rival for the 10th straight year.
“Bouncing back from the middle of the season, it’s always hard,” Teague said. “That’s the thing with kicking. Obviously, I know all these guys do more physical work than I do, but kicking is at least 90 percent up here in the head. It’s definitely a mental game. It’s a battle. After the middle of the season, you just had to keep pressing forward. The thing that helped me out the most was my brothers had my back.”
Then he had theirs when it mattered the most.