Yankee Stadium was the grand stage for college football Saturday night. The bright new version of the stadium with the signature roof facade provided a distinct sense of place reminding us of those who played and went to the famed ballpark in prior eras.
A capacity crowd of 54,251 watched Army parachute jumpers sail in, the Notre Dame Band play God Bless America and the competition of players from two storied universities.
The final score was 27-3 as the Irish dominated after the first quarter.
Going into the game, stopping the pass had been a key concern for Army. Their opponents averaged 188 yards in the air against the Black Knights who gave up two long touchdowns in the 42-22 loss two weeks earlier to Air Force.
Saturday night Irish freshman quarterback Tommy Rees from Lake Forest, IL looked like another potential star with 13-of-20 pass completions for 214 yards and one touchdown.
West Point struggled to mount a pass rush, and for the second game of the last four did not register a sack. The Black Knights have had but two sacks since the siege of eight QB tackles they delivered in the Rutgers game. Senior defensive end Josh McNarry who holds the Academy record for career sacks with 27.5 and 9.5 so far this year, was contained by frequent double-team blocking from the Irish offensive line.
Army captain Stephen Anderson from Ijamsville, Md. said afterwards:
"We came into the game knowing they would establish the run, we knew as soon as we stopped the run, they were going to pass. They put the tight end on me, No. 80 (Tyler Eifert) made some great plays today. They did a good job with our stunts, we had a couple of blitzes that got in there, but they did a great job protecting their QB. They nickeled and dimed us, then beat us with the big pass."
After the game Coach Ellerson commented about the importance of a pass rush in trying to stop the ND passing game:
"We felt like our best chance was going to be to control the run, keep it thick, and try to keep it thick in the middle of the field. We knew we were going to have a challenge from a matchup standpoint really across the board. We needed our safety to be in a lot of places. The common denominator is pressure. And that's where we were a little disappointed because we knew if we were going to be successful consistently on defense, it was going to be with pressure. We were going to keep it on the field and force some bad throws, and we weren't doing it consistently at all."
Key to the West Point frustration was having its consistently productive option running game averaging over 270 yards per week limited to 135 yards on 43 carries for an average of 3.1 yards.
Army quarterback Trent Steelman ran for two first downs early in the game but gained only 37 yards on 14 attempts. Afterwards he said, "They came out in a defense we had not practiced for all week, but from day one of spring ball we practiced against four defenses, and they showed two of them today, so it should not have been anything new to us. They did a good job reading our play action and reading our offense, so it's just hats off to them really."
Army Sophomore back Jared Hassin from Delafield, Wis. never got off track on the evening, with 23 yards on eight tries. Notre Dame clogged the middle of the line and was quick enough to stop the outside runs made by Army.
Coach Ellerson commented, "You always love for your fullback to be a factor. We were trying to outside release our tackles to try to influence those guys out of there and get Jared started and they were having none of it."
The Army passing game did not provide a diversion with just two completions and two interceptions after having had only the one against Air Force during the season. ND's senior corner back Darrin Walls intercepted Steelman's second pass of the second half and ran it 42 yards for a touchdown to make the score 24-3 just 54 seconds into the third quarter.
On playing at Yankee Stadium, Anderson who loves playing the game said, "It was a great atmosphere, it was easy to just turn the scoreboard off and just play, no matter what the scoreboard read, we were ready to go out there and have some fun, that is when we play our best football. The whole second half we just talked about making plays for one another and we kept them out of the end zone."
The Irish did not score a second half offensive touchdown.
The Black Knights now 6-5 on the year, have three weeks to regroup for the their annual game on Dec. 11 with the Midshipman, now 8-3 on the year after a 35-19 win over Arkansas State.
Navy QB Ricky Dobbs ran for three touchdowns in that game giving the senior 40 rushing TDs over two consecutive seasons, an NCAA record. Anderson said, "We need to do the same thing we do every week, watch films, see how we can get better, put in our triple-option defense, more precision from our defense and offense will lead to better things."
Steelman added, "Monday we get back to work, the biggest thing about our team is the character and the ability to clear anything that goes wrong and just move on, not worry about the past."
Coach Ellerson commented, "The big concern is just the injury part of it. Just trying to get some guys well. I don't think that we suffered anything seriously and that should help. Every week's another adventure. This is a resourceful bunch. They love to play. We play without a lot of margin for error. That is the outfit we have, and we'll be excited to play."
The author broadcasts the West Point Football Report by Sons of the American Legion Radio every Tuesday during the season on WVOX 1460 AM in New Rochelle, N.Y. and heard worldwide on WVOX.com. Past broadcasts are available on www.legionpost50ny.com. Ken can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org.