THE ALUMNI MAGAZINE OF NORWICH UNIVERSITY

The charged minutes before kickoff. A last-second field goal. Scenes from Homecoming weekend’s unforgettable “Little Army-Navy Game” football matchup

Students get ready for parade
First-year running back Joshua Pough, #24 (center) of Baltimore, Md., listens with his teammates to head football coach Mike Murnyack’s pre-game pep talk in Plumley Armory minutes before Homecoming’s Saturday kickoff against the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

On Saturday, the Cadets football team, still undefeated, prepared to square off against the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. At stake: "the Mug" and bragging rights in a 90-year ri­valry. With 15 minutes until kickoff, the Cadets players and coaches crowded into Plumley Ar­mory’s basement weight room.

Punter Matt Rogers ’20 approached start­ing quarterback Matt Dunn ’21. “Do me a favor,” he said. “Keep me off the field.” Dunn nodded his assent.

Alumnus Rob Robichaud ’02 urged the team to notice all Norwich football-loving people in the room. “Look to the left, look to the right,” he said. “You have brothers.” There’s past, he said, pointing to alums; present, looking at the play­ers; and future, he said, picking up his young son, who looked to be about 4 or 5.

The team cheered and clapped. “Bring this thing up tight,” a player said. They gathered closer.

Head football coach Mike Murnyack stepped forward to talk. “Some people put it on the back of a T-shirt, and it says ‘tradition,’” he said. “At Norwich, you live it every day. The things that you did are the things these guys in here did. They put it on the line, for each other. They love this program and what it’s taught them. They want to see you be successful and carry on the tradition.”

“Being tough, being physical, handling ad­versities, outworking somebody—those are the things that we have the obligation to uphold. That’s our responsibility today.”

Then Murnyack reminded his players of last year’s 38-35 loss against the Coast Guard, and the pit they felt in their stomachs walking off the field.

“We’ve been waiting a year, now we get a chance to do it on Sabine,” he said. “No losses on Sabine, that mug is ours.”

The team prayed together and said, “Amen.” Then it was time to play. 

Before kickoff, football alumnus Rob Robichaud ’02 offers encouragement to starting Cadets quarterback Matt Dunn (#6) in the basement of Plumley Armory as sophomore outside linebacker Adam Sanchez (#46) looks on.
Before kickoff, football alumnus Rob Robichaud ’02 offers encouragement to starting Cadets quarterback Matt Dunn (#6) in the basement of Plumley Armory as sophomore outside linebacker Adam Sanchez (#46) looks on.

Four quarters later, the game had reached a dream-it-in-the-backyard moment for Cadets kicker Clyde Tamburro ’21. A record-setting Bicentennial Homecoming weekend crowd at Sabine Field was on nail-biting, heart-racing edge. The Cadets in possession of the football just 26 yards from the goalposts. One tick left on the clock before game time expired. The scoreboard showed Norwich tied with their U.S. Coast Guard Academy rivals at 14 points apiece.

Up until now, it had been a nerve-testing afternoon for Tam­burro. His first-quarter, 22-yard field goal attempt, which would have given the Cadets an early lead, went wide right. A score-ty­ing extra point in the third quarter nearly went awry—the line-drive kick struck a goalpost before banking in.

Now, one swift kick could produce a fit-for-storybook ending; a miss could mean a fraught overtime. The stage had been set for Tamburro’s last-second heroics earlier in the quarter thanks to two big drives by his team.

First came a touchdown, fueled by 49 yards of up-the-mid­dle running plays and a drive-sustaining pass. On a fourth down-and-3, quarterback Matt Dunn ’21 hit wide receiver Ryan Reed ’20 for a 17-yard gain. With seven minutes left, running back Aaron Conner ’20 ran into the end zone from 13 yards out for a touchdown. Tamburro’s extra point leveled the score at 14 points each.

Senior running back Connor Bourque (#20) celebrates in the end zone after a third-quarter 19-yard touchdown pass.
Senior running back Connor Bourque (#20) celebrates in the end zone after a third-quarter 19-yard touchdown pass.

The Cadets defense then answered in turn, shutting down the Coast Guard offense on their next possession to force the Bears to punt two minutes later. Manni Romero ’21 caught the kick, returning it 15 yards to put Norwich on its own 49-yard line.

Facing second down-and-24 deep into the ensuing Cadets drive, Dunn threw a 28-yard pass to Reed that moved the ball to Coast Guard 12-yard line. Norwich President Richard W. Schnei­der paced in front of the stands, imploring fans to make noise for the home team.

The game clock ticked down to one second. Cadets head coach Mark Murnyack called for Tamburro, who’d spent time on the sideline warming up, kicking balls into a net with rhythmic thuds.

The senior kicker trotted onto the field. Tamburro was in flow state, something he learned from his lacrosse coach, Neal Ander­son. The junior wasn’t thinking about making the kick. Instead, he focused on instinct. Up went the snap, down went the ball. Down went Tamburro’s left leg, up went his right. The ball sailed up, splitting the uprights.

Junior starting quarterback Matt Dunn of Rockland, Mass., scrambles for yards against the Coast Guard defense.
Junior starting quarterback Matt Dunn of Rockland, Mass., scrambles for yards against the Coast Guard defense.

Ballgame.

The kicker started sprinting, full of adrenaline and energy, riding an incredible feeling of excitement. On the sidelines, Coach Murnyack stood silent, immobile and speechless after he watched Tamburro’s kick sail through the goalposts.

The Homecoming stands erupted. The end zone cannon boomed. Players rushed to midfield, joined by the Corps of Cadets, who had cheered from the sidelines all game long.

Rooks cheer on the Cadets.
First-year recruit Joseph Eckardt lets his enthusiasm shine as he and his fellow rooks cheer on the Cadets football team from the sidelines. In the final second, Norwich beat its 90-year rival, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
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