The 123rd Army-Navy Game was not lost with Anton Hall Jr. The members of the Navy football team want to ensure you don’t make the mistake in thinking that.
The sophomore fullback should have been Navy’s player of the game — of the year. A play as massive as a go-ahead touchdown against Army wipes all the red from the ledger as far as the service academies are concerned. Hall’s 77-yard touchdown run was not only the longest rushing play in the Army-Navy history, but the breath of life the Midshipmen desperately needed. It was Navy’s first touchdown, the third-quarter catalyst that swung momentum the Mids’ way until the end of the fourth quarter.
Hall, who has suffered unspeakable tragedy this season, should have been on top of the world, then and in double overtime. But then, there was nothing the 5-foot-8 sophomore could do when the 290-pound body of Army defensive lineman Darius Richardson fell upon him on the goal line.
Yes, Hall fumbled one yard from a touchdown, turning over Navy’s last shot at victory over their bitterest rival on Saturday, a game that gave Army a much sought-after 20-17 win.
“It was one play,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “There was a lot of other plays in the course of the game. Don’t put this loss on Anton Hall.”
Hall surmounted true adversity to achieve what he did in regulation on Saturday.
He fumbled the ball in key moments this season, including a drop in the Mids’ opener that fueled Delaware’s win, as well as a turnover against SMU in October that yielded momentum to the Mustangs.
History was made Saturday, but Navy came out on the wrong end of it. For the first time in its 123 year history, the Army-Navy football game went to overtime. It took two extra periods before Army came away with a 20-17 win. https://t.co/IluGUrmUYM
— Capital Gazette Sports (@AACapitalSports) December 11, 2022
The sophomore that entered the season as the No. 1 fullback slipped deeper and deeper on the depth chart until he found himself buried as the third-string behind Daba Fofana and Logan Point. He entered Saturday’s contest as the second-string.
And in 12 seconds in the third quarter, Hall nearly washed all those early mistakes away.
A defender swept upon him, threatening to bring Hall down all the way back at the Navy 27. But Hall wasn’t alone. Offensive guard Ahmad Bradley pushed Army defensive back D’Andre Tobias back with one hand while wrapping his other arm around hulking linebacker Camden O’Gara. With his teammate effectively corralling any threats to his run, Hall broke from the line of scrimmage, speeding unchallenged downfield until his feet touched navy-blue turf.
He hardly glanced back, even as a pair of Black Knights closed the space around his flanks. Hall just knew he’d make it.
“It was like lightning,” Niumatalolo said. “The kid’s super talented.”
Every player in the @ArmyNavyGame wears a patch on the sleeve of their jersey honoring a military unit, squadron or battalion. For @NavyFB players such as Clay Cromwell and Max Sandlin, the patch is selected for very personal reasons.https://t.co/hfqUKkCTfg pic.twitter.com/3HSpHHz7lV
— Capital Gazette Sports (@AACapitalSports) December 9, 2022
But Hall was not running alone. One of his best friends ran with him.
Hall, as well as sophomore Amin Hassan, carpooled together daily with their neighbor D’Sean Perry from their suburb outside Miami to play football at Gulliver Prep. Perry was the first person Hall met when he transferred to the school in seventh grade.
Perry was one of three Virginia football players killed during a shooting on Nov. 13.
“Those two guys lost one of their dear friends,” Niumatalolo said. “It’s been a tough year for him that way, above the football.”
No one else but Hassan could have been the one to console Hall on Saturday night as the truth of his mistake crashed in on him on the field.
Part of love, the coach said, is about being honest. Taking care of the ball has always been a priority to Niumatalolo in his 15-year tenure with Navy.
“I thought he practiced hard. You feel for him,” Niumatalolo said. “People were just hugging him because there are no words to console Anton. He’s an awesome kid and I just feel bad for him, that it had to come to this.”
There’s other plays, Niumatalolo said. This one was just the one at the end. Navy had plenty of chances to capitalize, but went 4-for-17 on third-down conversions. Hall’s offensive teammates take that blame on, because Hall’s touchdown should have opened the door to victory from their perspective. And nothing was done with the momentum he gifted them.
“Anton saves the game for us. He brought us to overtime,” senior offensive lineman Kip Frankland said. “[Before the double overtime fumble], we could have blocked better. It’s on us.”
Quarterback Xavier Arline handed the ball to Hall because Hall had been running well. On third-and-3, he pressed his way over a snarling horde of Black Knights the first time, a hair away from breaking the plane. He was pushed back, so he tried again — and met Richardson and his catastrophic fate.
And it could’ve happened to anyone else carrying the ball on that down, Arline said, just as easily.
“It’s one play,” Arline said. “They made a good play and that’s football. That’s life. The game was not lost within that one play. It could have been won within that one play, but it wasn’t lost with him.
“I’m super proud of him and his ability to persevere, to come back through all the adversities he’s been through this season.”
(c) 2022 The Capital
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.