Jubulant Army players after win over Academy rival.
The tradition after Commander In Chief games between Army, Air Force and Navy is for the "Alma Mater" of both teams to be performed by the respective school bands with the teams standing together at attention. The anthem of the losing team is performed first, then the anthem of the winning team is performed second.
"Singing second" is perhaps the most prized moment in the football career of a player at one of the service academies.
Today, for the first time since 2005, Army "sang second."
After the game, Army senior quarterback Trent Steelman looked like the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders and he could celebrate with this teammates. Steelman is breaking almost all the records for quarterbacks at Army, but his career will be remembered by today's game and what happens in Philadelphia against Navy in December. He said after the game:
"It's a feeling I had never experienced before. It's a feeling I wouldn't change for the world. It is a big win for our program, but we have to turn around and go back to work."
At Army, football careers are measured by how teams have done against Air Force and Navy. When you visit West Point, signs are all over the stadiums, gyms and arenas proclaiming "Beat Air Force" and "Beat Navy."
This 2012 team will now be known as the team which broke the streak against Air Force, but they know they have more work coming up with big match-ups against nationally ranked Rutgers and Temple before playing Navy in December.
After the game, Coach Ellerson was beaming in his understated way. He talked about how this was a good Army team, better than their record demonstrates. He described the growth of the young players in the lineup, with as many as eight freshman and sophomores starting on defense in recent weeks, about how they are gaining confidence and experience with each passing week.
Army won by getting out ahead early on a 66-yard drive finished by Trent Steelman's first of two scoring runs. On this play, Steelman hit the line was going no where, but spun his body through another hole to allow him the four yards for the touchdown.
The Black Knights really won this game with defense. With the score tied 7-7, the Army defense gave up a 65-yard drive to Air Force, but on 4th-and-goal from the 1, the Black Knights stopped the plunge by Falcon quarterback Connor Dietz. That set the tone for the rest of the day.
After that, Army marched down the field three times and scored two field goals—the kicks by Daniel Grochowski from 20 and 36 yards, and the other was Steelman's second touchdown run on a one yard plunge—to take a 20-7 halftime lead.
Last year in Colorado Springs, Army held a 14-0 lead at the half and gave up 21 unanswered points to Air Force in the third quarter. Today, the Black Knights, cheered on by a very loud Corps of Cadets, scored twice in the third quarter on two 54-yard drives, with sophomore fullback Larry Dixon scoring on a six-yard run followed by a one-yard run by Raymond Maples less than six minutes later.
Army held on through two Air Force touchdowns in the fourth quarter, and the defense ended up scoring a touchdown of their own when Nate Combs recovered a fumbled snap in the end zone to finish off the 41-21 victory.
Michie Stadium is said to be one of the best places to watch college football. Today, the sun was shining through most of the game and the trees had turned to fall colors over the east stands, which made it easy to forget the tough week it had been for so many.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin E. Dempsey and Army Chief of Staff General Raymond T. Odierno, both graduates of West Point, were on the sidelines. There were surely happy West Point alumni cheering in Afghanistan and other places where soldiers are serving.
Ken Kraetzer covers Army football and Iona basketball for WVOX 1460 AM and Sons of the American Legion Radio.