PHILADELPHIA - Wyatt Middleton returned a fumble 98 yards for a touchdown late in the second half and was named the game's Most Valuable Player as Navy topped Army, 31-17, Saturday afternoon in front of more than 69,220 fans at Lincoln Financial Field.
In the 111th meeting between service academy rivals, Middleton made the play of the game to help the Midshipmen to their ninth straight win in a series that dates back to 1890.
Army held a 209-139 advantage in rushing yards and scored on two passing touchdowns but Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs threw for 186 yards and two long touchdowns and Middleton's momentum-changing play paced the Midshipmen.
Navy, which will play San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 23, improved to 9-3
Army, bound for the Armed Forces Bowl to face SMU on Dec. 30, is now 6-6.
The Black Knights were trailing 17-7 late in the first half and driving for a touchdown when Middleton corralled a loose ball and bolted 98 yards for a touchdown and a 24-7 Navy lead at halftime. Instead of Army cutting its deficit to three and receiving the second half kickoff, Navy went into halftime with a 17-point advantage and held on in the second half.
Army quarterback Trent Steelman completed 11-of-20 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns and was the team's leading rusher with 74 yards on 19 carries. Raymond Maples rushed for 66 yards while Jared Hassin picked up 50.
Dobbs was 6-of-11 for 186 yards and two scores and rushed for 54 yards to lead the Mids' offense. Middleton was credited with nine tackles, a pass breakup and two fumble recoveries.
Army's defense limited Navy to 139 yards rushing behind 12 tackles from Stephen Anderson and six apiece from Donovan Travis, Marcus Hilton and Jarrett Mackey.
The game started sloppily as each team turned the ball over. Following Army's fumble, Navy took advantage with a 36-yard field goal by Joe Buckley. Army went three-and-out on its next possession before Dobbs found John Howell for a 77-yard touchdown pass and a 10-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
The Midshipmen extended their advantage to 17-0 early in the second quarter when Dobbs connected with Brandon Turner for a 32-yard score.
The Black Knights utilized a turnover for their first score of the game. Dobbs lost the handle on an exchange and Josh McNary fell on the loose ball at the 23-yard line. Maples picked up five yards, Hassin rushed for four and then Steelman collected six yards on two carries. Maples rushed for three yards before Steelman found Malcolm Brown for a five-yard touchdown pass, the first receiving touchdown of Brown's career.
Army forced another fumble on Navy's next possession with Anderson capturing a loose ball forced by McNary.
The Black Knights took over near midfield and were methodically marching up the field with a strong rushing game. Steelman tried to get in the end zone from the two-yard line. Instead, Tyler Simmons popped the ball out of Steelman's hands and Middleton went 98 yards for a 24-7 Navy lead at halftime.
Army, benefitting from a 24-yard kickoff return by Maples, cut the deficit to 24-10 on its first possession of the second half. Maples rushed for 19 yards on the first three plays of the drive and later collected 12 on a rush. Steelman also had a big gain with a 13-yard run to set up Alex Carlton's 42-yard field goal.
Navy added to its lead early in the final quarter as Gee Gee Greene rushed for a 25-yard touchdown to make it 31-10.
Army answered with an 80-play drive that took just five plays. Steelman found Davyd Brooks for 13 yards and Brown for nine before Maples rushed for seven. George Jordan hauled in a six-yard pass and then Steelman and Brown hooked up for a 45-yard touchdown pass for the game's final scoring.