Army edges Navy 11-10 in annual Okinawa rivalry tilt

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Army edges Navy 11-10 in annual Okinawa rivalry tilt

by: Dave Ornauer | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: December 09, 2018

CAMP SHIELDS, Okinawa – Dominic Hazenfratz wasn’t worried, he said, about making a two-point kick that would spell the difference between his Army team winning and losing Saturday’s annual flag-football rivalry game with Navy.

“My team has confidence in me, so I had confidence in myself,” Hazenfratz said after converting his placement kick with 1:40 left that gave Army an 11-10 comeback win over Navy. “I couldn’t have done it without these guys.”

It was a case of flipping the narrative of a year ago, when Navy elected to go for the rarely used two-point try, a play unique to flag football, that helped give Navy an 18-10 win over Army last December.

Almost a year to the day, Army turned the tables. Quarterback Chris Rockholt got Army within one point, 10-9, with a 1-yard sneak, setting up Hazenfratz’s game-winning kick.

“It was a struggle all day,” said Rockholt, whose TD run helped make up for three Navy interceptions. “There was a lot of physicality out there. We appreciate the opportunity to play this game.”

Saturday’s showdown marked the 29th time Army and Navy teams have played each other in December on island, in a game that mirrors the service-academy rivalry games in the States.

It’s the last of the three in-season Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy games between the service academies, and in recent years has marked the end of the college football regular season.

Okinawa’s game, with the island’s version of the Commanders Trophy at stake, is the granddaddy of all rivalry games played in the Pacific; games are also played alternately at Camp Zama and Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Japan and at Camp Humphreys in South Korea.

And like Saturday’s 119th Army-Navy game played at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, the theme of such games is rivals on the field but comrades in arms off it.

“After the game, we’re all one team,” said Capt. Robert W. Mathewson, Fleet Activities Okinawa’s commanding officer.

But the Mathewson household exuded rivalry even before the game. His wife, Barbra, is Kadena High School cheer coach; Panthers cheerleaders, clad in black-and-gold colors, cheered on the Army spectators, which inspired some good-natured ribbing between captain and spouse.

“I can’t help but feel just a little betrayed,” Captain Mathewson said jokingly.

On a serious note, Barbra Mathewson said of her cheer group: “This is their opportunity to give back. This is bigger than what they are.”

Some 500 spectators gathered at the field on Shields, hosting the game for the third straight year after 26 years at nearby Torii Station, with kickoff at high noon Saturday.

While Kadena’s cheerleaders stoked the spirits of the Army fans, Kubasaki’s cheerleaders did the same for Navy spectators.

During breaks in the action, a sound system blared out tunes ranging from the modern to old school. Younger fans spent time in a bouncy house in one corner of the field. In others, sizzling burgers, pulled pork and popcorn helped nourish fans of all ages.

With Saturday’s victory, Army took a 20-9 lead on Okinawa. Coupled with Army’s 27-19 win at Camp Zama and Army’s 25-0 shutout on Dec. 1 at Camp Humphreys, soldiers hold an overall 49-19 lead in the series.

As for the rivalry in the States, Navy entered Saturday’s game in Philly with a 60-51-7 lead in the series. But Army won the Commanders’ Trophy for the third straight year on Saturday.

Army-Navy was also the game that gave TV viewing America something it’s been used to for decades – instant replay, which made its debut on CBS during the 1963 Army-Navy game.