Quarterback Trent Steelman scored his third touchdown with 45 seconds left to give Army its first victory, a 34-31 decision over Boston College before a packed house Saturday at Michie Stadium.
This was a win to savor. Army was more than a touchdown underdog, but ran for 516 yards and four touchdowns and was given a second chance to win with two vital stops by the defense in the final two minutes.
The fourth quarter was an epic. With the score tied at 24, Army fullback Larry Dixon was stopped on 3rd-and-goal at the BC 2-yard line. Daniel Grochowski, who had made 46-yard field goal and missed a 26-yarder, gave the Black Knights the lead for the third time, converting a 20-yard attempt.
BC answered, scoring on a 24-yard run on a reverse by wide receiver Alex Amidon.
With BC now ahead 31-27, Army drove back down the field before Raymond Maples failed to score with 2:30 remaining on a 4th-and-goal running play from the BC 1-yard line.
But the Army defense prevented BC from getting a first down, holding Andre Williams, who had a 99-yard touchdown run earlier in the game, to three short gains. After a short punt, Army regained possession at the BC 38-yard line with 1:03 remaining.
Some in the capacity crowd of 39,492 who had been heading to the exits moments earlier now stopped in the aisles to watch Army's chance to pull out a victory.
A pass attempt to Malcom Brown was incomplete. Maples ran for nine yards to the 29. Then on 3rd-and-1, Steelman ran the option to the left, a hole emerged, Malcolm Brown made a key block and the senior quarterback scored his third touchdown to give Army a 34-31 lead with 44 seconds left.
After the score, Steelman jumped joyously into the arms of his teammates while the Corps of Cadets yelled and waved their white dress caps.
BC, hoping to set up at least a tying field-goal attempt, hurt its chances by fumbling the ensuing kickoff out of bounds at its 5-yard line. QB Chase Rettig, who threw for 234 yards and a touchdown on the day, completed two passes. But Bobby Swigert fumbled after a catch at the BC 42, and his bobble was recovered by Army's Nate Combs.
Afterward in the media conference, I asked Steelman about his decision-making on his game-winning touchdown run.
The quarterback’s job description in this type of offense is to take what the defense gives you. That’s just what I did. The corner was kind of baiting, and we’re taught that if he’s giving us inside leverage to give a pump fake and get what you can. I saw he was baiting, gave a little nod and the rest is history, I guess.
Later Steelman described to me the importance of this win.
It is a huge momentum swing, helps us set up to get back on track, start winning some games, just exactly what we need.
Steelman had 22 carries for 150 yards. The game-winning touchdown gave the Bowling Green, Ky., native the Army career record with 36 touchdowns, one more than Tory Crawford, who played for Army from 1984 to 1987.
Last week in a loss to Stony Brook, Steelman played despite sore ribs that he injured against Wake Forest game. I asked him how he is able to absorb the pounding, take hard hits throughout the game and still have something left to make a big play at the end.
That is the way my Dad raised me. He raised me to be a tough guy. He said, if you're injured, that is one thing. But if you are hurt, you can fight through it. That is how I have always played my game ever since, how I have always played the game of football, fight through it.
Maples had another big game, with 186 yards on 34 carries. I asked the senior from Philadelphia, Pa., about his game
Honestly, I have to give credit to our offensive line. Without them I wouldn’t have gotten anything. Also, I wasn’t really thinking about how many carries I was getting. It’s kind of routine when we’re out there on the field.
The win would not have been possible without the stop forcing BC to punt in the final moments, I asked Army sophomore linebacker Geoffrey Bacon if being able to make plays is a sign the defense is maturing.
We matured a lot today. People were helping each other out, and we just stayed together. Their offensive line was big, but if they got to me, somebody else was making the play and vice versa. I think we took a huge step today. But we still have a long way to go.
Wearing the Captain's C today was linebacker Nate Combs, who is called the "Bandit" in the Army system. He described the defensive stop his unit made in the final minutes.
That was pretty fun. I think I got into a four-point (stance) three straight plays, just doing whatever I could, grabbing who I could. I think everyone was doing that. Then we saw our offense go down and score. That’s exactly what you picture before you go to sleep. You see these images, and it finally happened.
So it became a day Army fans will remember for decades, and a day BC must have felt very disappointed about on the bus ride home.
Army can now try to get its season on track with games against Kent State, Eastern Michigan and Ball State, three Mid-American Conference schools.
Sports Illustrated writer and West Point graduate Mark Beech will be Ken Kraetzer's guest at Monday 2:30 p.m. EST on the Sons of the American Legion Radio Report to discuss his new book about Army football in the 1950s glory years, When Saturday's Mattered Most. On Tuesday, National Football Foundation Hall of Famer and former Army head coach Jim Young will be the guest on the West Point Football Report, to be aired at 5 p.m. EST Tuesday on WVOX in New Rochelle, NY.
Listen in on http://www.wvox.com/.