PHILADELPHIA | Trent Steelman will leave Army with nearly every quarterback rushing record at the school and a reputation as a man who lived up to his name as a rugged competitor for the Black Knights.
The one thing he won’t depart with is a victory over Navy.
Army’s 17-13 loss Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field represented its 11th straight in the series, including the last four with Steelman under center. And the Midshipmen clinched the victory after Steelman and fullback Larry Dixon bungled a handoff inside the Navy 20 with 1:04 to play.
“It’s just unfortunate; I don’t know how else to put it,” Steelman said. “I feel like we deserved that game in every way possible, but it just didn’t happen. We were wearing them down and there was nothing that was going to stop us, but that’s life. Things don’t go your way sometimes.”
Of all of the Black Knights’ losses to the Mids during the decade-plus losing streak, this might sting the most.
Only once in the previous 10 losses did Army hold a second-half lead, and even that was a 3-0 edge for the first 6:05 of the third quarter in 2009. The Black Knights tied Navy on a field goal just before halftime, then nosed ahead on another field goal set up by Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds’ last fumble.
Army (2-10) took its 13-10 lead into the fourth quarter and was poised to build on it before Eric Osteen missed a 37-yard field goal with 6:57 to play. Yet even after Reynolds’ go-ahead score, the Black Knights promptly dissected the Navy defense to set itself up for a chance to finally exorcise 10 years of bad memories.
Steelman was in the middle of it all, completing a pair of passes for first downs and later converting a third-down run. Yet his final college play will be difficult to forget: A fumble Navy defensive lineman Barry Dabney landed on to lock up the victory.
“I don’t really know what happened,” Steelman said. “It was a quarterback-fullback mesh but I’m running out of here so I’m going to put that one on me. There’s no way I could put something like that on Larry.”
Moments later, Navy began its celebration and Mids coach Ken Niumatalolo sought out the four-year starter.
Steelman, understandably torn up, couldn’t remember much about the conversation. Niumatalolo shared his message to his team’s feisty foe.
“Just to hang in there,” Niumatalolo said. “He’s a tough kid. We should all be proud as Americans that that guy is going to go protect our country. They don’t get any tougher than Trent Steelman. Four years starting at West Point, a military service academy. I know everybody in our locker room has nothing but respect for that young man.”
The same was true on the other sideline for a man who made the last of his 46 career starts Saturday.
“He’s done all kinds of great stuff,” Army coach Rich Ellerson said. “This is unfortunate because this doesn’t correlate with what he’s accomplished here. He’s a great competitor and an accomplished player. He deserves to feel better on the last day, but when it all gets into perspective it’ll be OK.”
—- Patrick Stevens