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St. Paul and STA alum celebrates recent victory over the Naval Academy

Kyle O'Connor did not get to play his team's rivalry game in a packed NFL stadium this time.There were fewer service academy students and members on hand than in years past. The game did not have a time slot to itself on the final day of the college football season.

You know what happened?

O'Connor and his Army teammates made the most of a big COVID-19 game changer. At the end of the day, the senior out of St. Thomas Aquinas celebrated another rivalry win.

Army beat Navy 15-0 last week in the first Army-Navy Game played at the United States Military Academy since 1943. World War II travel restrictions at that time forced the game to be played at West Point. COVID-19 protocols this year forced it to be moved from Philadelphia.

"It was definitely an amazing experience"
"It was definitely an amazing experience," O'Connor said. "I honestly couldn't think of a better way to close out my career against Navy."

Almost 69,000 fans filled Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field for the 2019 Army-Navy Game. This year's game at Michie Stadium drew 12,722 fans. Army averaged 5,253 a game prior to that.

The Black Knights avenged a 2019 loss to Navy and beat the Midshipmen for the third time in O'Connor's four years at Army. It also was the Black Knights' first shutout of Navy in 51 years.

"The games in Philadelphia and Baltimore were definitely cool," O'Connor said. "I think winning at home was probably the most special one we've had."

The Army-Navy Game is a spectacle for many football fans. O'Connor considers himself fortunate to be a part of it as a player.

"Greatest rivalry in sports"
"I think it's the greatest rivalry in sports," O'Connor said. "I obviously grew up watching Ohio State and Michigan. That's always a huge rivalry, but I think even that game doesn't even come close to how intense this game is, especially being a part of it the last four years.

"It has been a surreal experience. The energy and the passion both sides have is definitely an incredible thing to be a part of."

O'Connor will play his final regular-season game Saturday at home against Air Force. Army will then close out the season Dec. 26 at the Independence Bowl against an opponent to be determined.

A win over Air Force will secure a third Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for Army in O'Connor's four seasons. The trophy is presented annually to the winning service with the best record in round robin competition.

Visit with President Trump
President Trump presented the trophy to O'Connor and his teammates at the White House after Army won it in 2017 and 2018. Each player had the opportunity to have an individual picture taken with him at his desk.

"Both times we went in early May," O'Connor said. "We would go down the night before and the next morning be in the Rose Garden. The president would bring us into his office and we would take a big group photo. Then he just kind of chatted with us a little bit.

"We were all standing in the Oval Office, and he was 'You guys want to do individual pictures?' We were all like 'Of course.' It was a pretty incredible experience."

The president attended his fourth Army-Navy Game last week. He met with both teams in their locker room's prior to last year's game.

"He stopped and shook everyone's hand," O'Connor said. "We definitely appreciate whenever he takes time out of his schedule to come watch us play and allow us to get a picture with him. They're all surreal experiences."

Army had to scramble to give O'Connor and his teammates a chance to play a full season. An independent, the Black Knights lost nine original opponents because of COVID-19. Three were from the Mid-American Conference, which ultimately scheduled a shortened season.

Despite the challenges, Army is 8-2.

"It was pretty clear what kind of season we were going to have," O'Connor said. "I'm definitely thankful for the athletic department for being able to build the schedule back up and have us play most of the games."

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