After going ahead 16-0 in the first half, Army survived two second half passing touchdowns by SMU to win the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl 16- 14 before a sellout crowd of 36,742 at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas, Texas.
The win secured West Point’s seventh win of the season, their first winning season since 1996, and their first “Bowl” victory since the Peach Bowl in 1985.
After the game, head coach Rich Ellerson said, “I’m so proud of this senior class, for them to get this win, and to bring back winning football, it is a great moment for the senior class. They have earned their place in the pantheon of Army football teams.”
Sophomore fullback Jared Hassin was named the Capital One Player of the game based on his clutch running, gaining 82 yards and exceeding the 1,000 yard mark, finishing the year with 1,013 yards. Hassin as a sophomore is one of only 12 Black Knights to have run for 1,000 yards, and the only sophomore except for Mike Mayweather in 1988.
Hassin’s classmate QB Trent Steelman skillfully controlled the Army attack running himself for 27 yards on 10 carries but only needing to throw seven times for 30 yards. Senior slot back Patrick Mealy had a productive day with 57 yards on 11 attempts.
Senior captain Stephen Anderson was asked about being all over the field, making 14 tackles from his position behind the defensive line. “That's the position I'm in," he said. "I'm the Mike linebacker in the double eagle flex defense, that's supposed to be a player that can run sideline to sideline and make plays.
"I don't try to deviate from the defensive scheme. I just try to do my job. We had 11 guys doing their job today. That's the best part about playing the game, you get to play next to your brothers who trust you to do your job, and of course you trust them to do their job. It's a great feeling."
After the opening kickoff, SMU completed two pass plays to move the ball to the Army 30 yard line. The Black Knights then generated their first turnover of the game with a sack of sophomore SMU QB Kyle Padron leading to a loose ball picked up by Army senior DE senior Josh McNarry who ran the fumble back 55 yards for a TD to give Army its first score of the game. Junior Alex Carlton kicked the PAT to give Army a 7-0 lead very early.
SMU moved the ball down field but senior Matt Szymansky missed a 35-yard field goal attempt to keep the game at 7-0.
Army went ahead to 13-0 lead at 9:34 still left in the first quarter with an 80-yard ball control drive capped off by a 13-yard run by sophomore Malcolm Brown, his fourth rushing TD of the year. The extra point attempt of Alex Carleton was blocked by SMU’s sophomore DE Margus Hunt, Alex Carlton’s first missed PAT after having made 41 in a row on the year.
The with SMU driving down the field again, Stephen Anderson intercepted Padron at the Army 22 for another big play by the Army defense. After an Army punt left the ball inside the SMU 5-yard line, Padron completed a pass to sophomore Darius Johnson to their own 30.
The next play resulted in Army’s third takeaway of the game, as Padron’s pass was intercepted by Army sophomore Josh Jackson who returned the ball to the SMU 30. Army punted and the defense, using a four-man line, held on a 3rd-and-4 pass by Padron that was nearly intercepted by senior DB Jordan Trimble.
Alex Carlton gave the Black Knights a 16-0 lead with his 15th field goal of the year with 2:39 left in the second quarter. Mike Gann made a fourth down stop on Kyle Padron, who tried an option play but ran the ball himself, allowing Army to take over on downs at their own 36.
Senior Jonathon Bulls launched a punt with 4 seconds play to protect Army’s 16-0 halftime lead. Coach Ellerson, running off the field at the end of the half, said, ”We take pride in our ability to take the ball away, we are making plays on offense and have to keep the pressure on up front.”
After Army received the opening kick off, Jared Hassin gained his 75th yard of the day, bringing his season and career total past 1,000 yards. Army punted from the SMU 40 and almost recovered inside the five when the ball bounced off an SMU player, but the Mustangs recovered.
With SMU stars from the early 1980s Eric Dickerson and Craig James watching from the sidelines, SMU went 92 yards on 13 plays in the third quarter to narrow Army’s lead to 16-7.
On 3rd-and-goal from the Army 8-yard line, QB Kyle Padron threw over the middle into the end zone to senior wide receiver Aldrick Robinson. The touchdown pass was Padron’s 30th of the year and the 14th TD reception for Robinson, who has averaged over 20 yards per catch on the year.
In the fourth, SMU scored again on a drive the length of the field, culminating in a 28-yard touchdown pass from Padron to sophomore Darius Johnson, who leaped to grab the ball over Army defender Steve Erzinger in the left corner of the end zone with nine minutes to go.
On its next possession, Army could not move the ball but Jonathan Bulls sent a 57-yard punt down the field, which was covered after a short return at the SMU 38 with eight minutes remaining. SMU moved the ball to the Army 30 but came up short on a 3rd-and-8 play.
SMU lined up for a 47-yard field goal from the right hash mark with a big wind blowing left to right. SMU coach June Jones called a timeout to talk to his senior kicker Matt Szymanski, who had made 7 of 10 field goals on the season—including a 61-yarder. The kick went wide left, allowing Army to take over with 4:10 left.
Afterward, SMU coach June Jones commented on his decision to call a timeout before the field goal attempt. “Yeah, well, Matty had been making them in the first half, in pregame in that direction," he said. "So when I asked him, you know, what his depth was going each way, he said, 65 with the wind and 50 into.
"I took the timeout just to tell him to hit the ball, relax, don't rush it. It looked like he rushed it, which is easy to do when you're a young kid, a lot on the line. But he had enough leg. Just unfortunate it didn't go in."
Trent Steelman and the Army offense were able to generate a vital first down and ran out the clock to secure Army’s memorable win.
Stephen Anderson described that the win was the culmination of a five year commitment by the Army senior class. “It's something we said back in prep school," he said. "We had a great prep school class. We weren't going into a very successful program. Guys were taking that opportunity to maybe shop around, maybe go somewhere else.
"We sat everybody down and said, look, we have the team that can bring winning football back to West Point. It's just a matter of time. When you have a young team like that that buys into something like that and then you have Coach E bringing what we've always felt inside but just needed someone to push us a little more for it, it's just kind of like a dream come true.
"It's a pact we made. It's a decision. Human will is the strongest thing on this earth. When you make a decision, you have to believe in it. That's exactly what we did."
Coach Ellerson spoke glowingly of his senior captain, Anderson. “Stephen is, he's a great player. He loves to play the game," he said. "But the best things about Stephen aren't going to be left on the football field. The best things about Stephen are going to go with him in life. The best things about Stephen are going to be with him as a lieutenant next year, and it's going to continue to pay dividends for all of us.
“That's why we play football at West Point, so guys like Stephen have this developmental journey, because they're going to take it on and take it to another place, to another sphere where they have tremendous influence and responsibility for all of us. Stephen is one of these guys, but he represents who those guys are. You need to sleep well at night knowing these guys are out there.”
Ken Kraetzer conducts the West Point Football Report for Sons of the American Legion Radio on radio station WVOX 1460 in New Rochelle, NY heard nationally on WVOX.com. Listen to interviews conducted with Brant Ringler, Executive Director of the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl and West Point graduate John Garrison, President and CEO of Bell Helicopter Company on www.legionpost50ny.com. Ken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org