The charged minutes before kickoff. A last-second field goal. Scenes from Homecoming weekend’s unforgettable “Little Army-Navy Game” football matchup
By Matthew Crowley
Photographs by Karen Kasmauski
The Norwich Record | Winter 2020
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.
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.
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.
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.