Once again, the Army offense looked effective moving the ball consistently down the field and converting drives into scores, but the defense was pushed around in a 49-37 loss to Wake Forest.
The Black Knights had strong performances from Ray Maples, 140 yards rushing averaging 9.3 yards per attempt, and Larry Dixon, 112 yards and a touchdown. Senior Ray Maples, who has split time the past two games at both wide receiver and slot-back, ran for 79 yards and caught a 19-yard pass from Steelman.
Trent Steelman had a solid game leading the option offense, running for 82 yards and three touchdowns before leaving in the closing moments with what appeared to be a rib injury.
The Army quarterback had a decent passing day, completing three of only four passes, one of which was a beautiful 13-yard throw to Ray Maples, who made a one-handed catch for a touchdown.
Overall, Army gained 506 yards on the day and played their ball control game, maintaining possession for 33:26. Unfortunately for the Black Knights, they let the Deacons run up 517 yards of offense.
The Demon Deacons featured a big offensive line, all players over 6'4" and ranging in weight from the smallest left guard Whit Barnes at 290 pounds to the largest right tackle Colin Summers at 315.
This group of NFL-sized players was opening big holes and providing time to pass for quarterback Tanner Price. Michael Campanaro was the favorite target for Deacon quarterback Tanner Price, catching 12 passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns.
Two Wake Forest backs exceeded 100 yards rushing on the day with Josh Harris generating 129 yards on just 12 carries for an average of 10.8 yards and two touchdowns. Deandre Martin gained 115 yards and also reached the end zone twice. Campanaro added the Deacons' fifth rushing touchdowns.
Overall, Wake ran for 296 yards and passed for 221 yards.
Army started with a solid drive with Trent Steelman passing deep to sophomore Chevaughn Lawrence for 45 yards to the Wake 13. Steelman then converted on a two-yard run, but the PAT kick was missed by freshman kicker Daniel Grochowski.
Wake also scored on their first possession. Tanner Price hit a 47-yard completion to Brandon Terry, then converting on a four-yard run by Campanaro.
Army came back, taking a 13-7 lead on runs by Larry Dixon for 29 yards to the Deacon 39, then scoring on a 12-yard run. Wake came right back with a 41-yard pass play from Tanner Price to Campanaro to take back the lead 14-13.
Starting the second quarter, Army went 73 yards down the field led by a 33-yard Ray Maples charge to the one, leading to a Trent Steelman plunge over his center Ryan Powis for his second score of the day.
After both teams finally had drives end with punts, the Deacons went 79 yards down the field with Price hitting Campanaro for a seven-yard score, taking back the lead for the third time 21-20. A 21-yard field goal by Grochowski gave Army the lead at the half.
Army coach Rich Ellerson was interviewed by the ACC Broadcast, commenting:
"Offensively we can't miss an opportunity. Defensively we have to get a stop. It just takes some guys to settle in on the defense getting used to playing college football."
Starting for Army on defense were three freshmen: Chis Carnege at a corner, Brandon Fusilier-Jeffries at free safety and Alex Meier at free safety.
Fusilier-Jeffries had a big game with 15 tackles, but it is a bad sign when a safety leads the team in tackles. Senior Josh Jackson, who had started 22 games straight for Army, sat this one out with a groin injury.
Wake Forest did not wait to retake the lead. It was 28-23 in the third quarter going 75 yards in seven plays. The touchdown was scored on a 19-yard run through a gaping hole in both the Army line and linebackers.
The big Wake line just dominated play with Army's only chance to stop the play in the secondary.
The game-changing mistake happened on Army's next possession as Ray Maples missed a pitch from Trent Steelman, resulting in a fumble recovered at the Army 25 by Justin Jackson. Wake converted in three plays, scoring a ten-yard run by Deandre Martin and expanding their lead to 35-23.
Army came back again with Ray Maples making up for his part of the fumble on the prior series with a 25-yard run to the Wake 30. Steelman scored his third touchdown of the day on a two-yard run to cut the Deacon lead to 35-30.
Then the Army defense started to break further again as the Deacon line opened up a huge hole to help Josh Harris run 63 yards for a score to put Wake ahead 42-30.
Army made another offensive effort to go 75 yards down the field, culminating in the Steelman pass to Ray Maples to cut the Wake lead to five 42-37, which held into the fourth quarter.
The Army defense forced Wake to punt, and Steelman and the offense started to move down the field once again. Then on a six-yard run to midfield, Steelman took a hit to his lower rib area.
He ran the next play, then went to the turf in pain. Angel Santiago came in at quarterback, but the drive stalled at the Wake 32.
The Deacons went down the field, culminating in a 3rd-and-6 play with Deandre Martin running 37 yards to make the final score 49-37.
For Army, the loss gives them a 0-3 record a quarter of the way through the season after playing three quality opponents.
They really needed at least one win of the first three to show their program in Rich Ellerson's fourth year is maturing, and to stay in line for the 6-6 record that will place them in the Washington D.C. Military Bowl.
Concern will now be for Trent Steelman, who has an injury to his midsection. Steelman is a tough guy who never complains, but we will have to see if he can play next week against Stony Brook. Perhaps this game will be a chance to let Steelman rest, and to let Santiago play and gain experience.
Do You Think Army Can Still Make a Bowl?
The real concern is for the defense, which has given up 40 points or more three weeks in a row. The defensive line was undersized last year, and is not much bigger this year with Mike Ugenyi at 257 pounds, Bobby Kough at 239 and Jarrett Mackey at 240.
Mackey, the "Legacy Captain", returned to the lineup against Wake and was scheduled to be in for 20 plays.
Linebacker Nate Combs has size and strength and was being sent to rush into holes in the middle, but the other linebackers were pushed around by the huge Wake offensive lineman.
Army has a chance to go on a winning streak with three straight home games against Stony Brook, Boston College and Kent State, followed by a road game at Eastern Michigan.
To win their share of these games, Coach Ellerson and his defensive staff need to find a way to bolster their front seven players, to stop the run and to mount some type of a pass rush. Army does have a few spare large offensive lineman who might be given a chance to convert to defense.
While Army has a strong senior dominated offense, it would be a shame if the defense unit continues to be this far behind all year.
Ken Kraetzer covers West Point football for WVOX 1460 AM in New Rochelle, NY and Sons of the American Legion radio. Listen to his high school /college football reports on 1460AM or www.WVOX.com every Friday morning at 6:35 AM.