Four plays, two long Air Force touchdown passes and two Army turnovers, were the decisive moments in the Falcons 42-22 victory over West Point today on a beautiful fall day at Michie Stadium in New York.
The day began with bright skies, autumn colors on the hillside trees on the Hudson Valley campus, the band and cheerleaders from each school parading through the tailgates and an Army parachute demonstration. One of the unique pregame ceremonies of the service academy games is the return of exchange students such as the Army students studying at Air Force this semester to their respective academies so they can watch the game with their fellow Academy classmates.
Both teams came out with special uniforms for the game. Army wore gray jerseys and pants with black helmets reflecting the dress uniforms of the Corps of Cadets. Air Force wore blue jerseys with red and white trim with helmets painted with the colors and design of the US Air Force Thunderbirds air demonstration team.
Army went out to a first quarter lead on field goals of 30 and 41 yards by junior Alex Carlton from Wilmington, DE who has become very consistent with his kicks in recent games.
Air Force took a 7-6 lead early in the second quarter completing an 11 play, 67-yard drive with a three-yard run by QB Tim Jefferson from Atlanta, GA. Soon after, Army senior Jonathan Bulls from Fairfax Station, VA hit a directional punt that forced the Falcons to start at their own 13-yard line. Two plays later came the first big Falcon pass play, a 53-yard connection from Jefferson to junior wide receiver Jonathan Warzeka, from Lake Elsinore, CA.
Army answered with an eight play, 60-yard drive completed with an 18-yard run by senior fullback Jacob Bohn from Westminster, MD. Late in the half with Army trailing 14-13 and playing from its own zone, sophomore QB Trent Steelman from Bowling Green, KY lofted a pass down field that was picked off by the Falcons Anthony Wright who ran the ball back to the Army 22. For Steelman who is known for careful passing, this was a costly first interception of the season. Falcon Nathan Walker from Colorado Springs completed a four play drive with a two-yard run, a turn of events from which West Point never really recovered.
In the third quarter, Alex Carleton kicked his third field goal of the game from 46 yards away, his 11th of the season and seventh in a row going back to the Rutgers game to narrow the AFA lead to 21-16. That was as close as Army would be the rest of the day.
Near the end of the quarter Jefferson and Warzeka connected again for a Falcon score, this one from 63 yards to give the AFA a 28-16 lead. Then with 2:21 gone in the fourth, the game was iced with the last of the four big plays, as the Falcons junior linebacker Jordan Waiwaiole from Spring Lake Park, MN stripped a ball and ran 52 yards for a TD making the score 35-16.
The Black Knights came back with an 80-yard drive completed with a nine-yard pass from Trent Steelman to WR Austin Barr. AFA answered with a 54-yard drive and QB Tim Jefferson's second rushing TD of the day on a one-yard dive completed the scoring on the day at 42-22 in favor of Air Force.
Army coach Rich Ellerson commented on the big plays which did in his team, "You can do so many good things on defense in any game, but if the ball goes over your head on third down every so often, it negates all those other things. We know how much good work a turnover can take away from the offense. You can be driving the ball down the field and doing everything exactly right, and if you turn the ball over it's all for naught. You can be winning the line of scrimmage, pressuring the quarterback on defense, but if the ball goes over your head, it's all for naught. That's the game. That's not news. It is certainly an illustration of how pivotal those things are and why we work so hard. We were on the edge in those passing situations. We're not trying to defend everything on every play against those guys. If you're playing against a good offensive football team, and they are one, and you try to defend everything on every snap, you're not defending anything. Never do we expect the ball to go over our head like that. We had some guys get tied up and fall down. It happens."
The win improves the Air Force to 6-4 on the season and leaves Army at 5-4 still in search of a sixth win that will make them eligible for a bowl trip not taken since 1996. The Black Knights head to Ohio next week to play Kent State then look forward to playing the first football game in the new Yankee Stadium against Notre Dame on Nov. 20th and the regular season ending rivalry game with Navy in Philadelphia on Dec. 11th.
Ken Kraetzer host's the West Point Football Report broadcast Tuesday evenings at 5:30 PM EST on WVOX 1460 AM heard "worldwide" on WVOX.com. This week's scheduled guest is West Point Commandant, BG William Rapp. Reach him on firstname.lastname@example.org