It took victories in two championship games to achieve, but the 50th Engineer Company earned the first-place trophy in the 2020 Commander’s Cup Flag Football Tournament Oct. 17, toppling the three-time defending champions, the 554th Engineer Battalion, in back-to-back contests.
“Hardest team we faced this year — and we had to play them twice,” said 50th Engr. Co. wide receiver Jamal Kirlen, who had a combined five touchdown receptions in the two championship games, both of which were played on Field 1.
Both the 50th Engr. Co. and 554th Engr. Bn. teams relied heavily on their passing games and at times seemed like mirror opposites, matching each other touchdown for touchdown.
The 50th Engr. Co. won the first championship game 52-44 in overtime to force the second championship in the double-elimination tournament. In the second game, the 50th Engineers held a slim, 2-point lead until, with less than a minute remaining, defensive end Alexander Amin intercepted a pass at midfield and returned it for a touchdown. With a short pass to Jesse Fulwiley completing the 2-point conversion, the 50th Engr. Co. won, 40-30.
“I saw the ball come out of the quarterback’s hand and my eyes got wide,” Amin said. “It was a good competition. It was definitely a shootout on both sides.”
50th Engr. Co. quarterback Cedric Jackson, who had 10 passing touchdowns and two rushing TDs between the two games, said consistency was key to his team’s win.
“Really, we were just taking what the defense was giving us,” Jackson said. “We went for the deep (passes) when we could, and we went for the short passes when we could. We were able to keep our composure and come out with the win, which was great.”
The road to the championship was a tough one for the 50th Engr. Co. As this year’s Conference B champions, they had a bye in the first round of the tournament Oct. 15, but fell to the 58th Transportation Battalion 24-22 in the second round later that night. Relegated to the loser’s bracket, the 50th Engr. Co. fought its way through the next three games, beating the 515th Sapper Company 14-6 on Oct 15, then defeated the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence team 14-9 and the 58th Trans. Bn. 28-26 on Oct. 16.
The 554th Engr. Bn., who were this year’s Conference A champions, also had a bye in the first round. They beat the MSCoE team 24-6 in the second round, then defeated the 58th Trans. Bn. 40-14 to advance to the championship.
At the outset, it looked as if the 554th Engr. Bn. would easily cruise to a fourth championship, with the team taking a 14-0 lead on a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Gates Benson to tight end Deangelo Stevenson.
A rushing touchdown by Jackson for the 50th Engineers, followed later by a pass from Jackson to Fulwiley in the end zone narrowed the 554th’s lead to two points, but a diving catch by Joshua Reis, who rolled head-over-heels into the end zone, gave the 554th Engr. Bn. a 22-12 lead at halftime.
At the start of the second half, the 50th Engr. Co. quickly caught up and then took a 28-22 lead with touchdown passes from Jackson to Kirklen and Fulwiley along with successful 2-point conversion passes to Fulwiley and Guadalupe Perez.
The 554th Engr. Bn. countered with a long pass on first down from Benson to Aaron McWilliams, who ran the final 15 yards to score and tie the game 28-28.
Jackson would go on to rush for a touchdown and throw to Caleb Pellegrin in the end zone, while Benson would throw a third TD pass to Stevenson and a second scoring pass to McWilliams to tie the game 44-44 at the end of regulation play.
Moving to overtime, each team got a chance to score from the 20-yard line, which the 50th Engr. Co. did on a 5-yard pass from Jackson to Perez, followed by a 2-point conversion pass to Christopher Hawes III.
The 554th Engr. Bn. offense stalled on the 8-yard line, giving the 50th Engr. Bn. the win. With one loss each in tournament play, both teams would prepare to play again.
Shortly after the kick-off, the 554th Engineers again looked likely to dominate, with Benson marching the team down the field to the 1-yard line, where he rushed for a touchdown to take a 6-0 lead. Two plays later, an interception gave the ball back to the 554th offense, and Benson again marched down the field.
However, on a second-down play 26 yards from their own end zone, Kirklen made an interception to give the 50th Engr. Co. possession. Two plays later, Jackson would pass the ball nearly the length of the field to Kirklen to tie the game 6-6, and with a successful 2-point conversion pass to Fulwiley, the 50th Engr. Co. would take an 8-6 lead.
The 554th Engr. Bn. would counter on its next series with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Benson to Stevenson to lead 14-8, while the 50th Engr. Co. would close out the first half with a 1-yard pass from Jackson to Kirklen in the end zone and a 2-point conversion pass to Fulwiley to reclaim the lead, 16-14.
The 50th Engineers would start the second half with another scoring drive, this time ending with a 21-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Kirklen. Jackson added 2 points on a quarterback keeper to extend his team’s lead to 24-14.
A 38-yard touchdown pass from Benson to Stevenson, followed by a 2-point conversion run by Benson would again narrow the 50th Engineers’ lead to two points, but the 50th would score again on its next drive, this time on an 18-yard throw from Jackson to Jonathan Burgos. A successful pass from Jackson to Amin would add two extra points, giving the 50th Engr. Co. a 32-22 lead.
The 554th Engr. Bn. struggled with penalties as it lurched forward on its next offensive series. After an illegal blocking call pushed them back 10 yards after making a first down, Benson made the most of the extra breathing room, throwing a 30-yard pass to Lacy Rutledge in the end zone followed by a 2-point-conversion pass to Stevenson to narrow the 50th’s lead to 2 points.
Two plays later, as officials called for the 2-minute warning, an interception by Jordan Webber gave the 554th possession at midfield, and successive passes to Stevenson and Mizell Rodriquez gave the team a first down at the 18-yard line. Unfortunately for the 554th, their drive stalled there, and, after three incomplete passes, the team attempted to score a field goal on fourth down, only to see the ball fall short of the uprights.
Two plays later, Webber again gave the 554th Engr. Bn. a needed opportunity with an interception at midfield. But on the 554th’s first-down play from that position, Amin scored on his interception, sealing the win for the 50th Engr. Co.
“We had to play perfect on both sides of the field,” Hawes said after the game. “We had to play as a team, as a family — and that made the difference for the win.”
Coleman Swinton, Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Chief of Sports presented the first-place trophy to the 50th Engr. Co. and the tournament’s second-place trophy to the 554th Engr. Bn. immediately following the second game. The 58th Trans. Bn., which was unable to attend, received the tournament’s third-place trophy at a presentation held later at Davidson Fitness Center.
As the 2020 tournament winners, the 50th Engr. Co. will form the majority of the Army team during this year’s Army/Navy flag football game. That game is tentatively scheduled for 10 a.m. Dec. 14 at Gerlach Field.