Some college football games are very hard to understand. A strong performance of a team in the first half disappears in a second half wave of fumbles, interceptions and bad decisions.
Army’s 24-14 loss at Colorado Springs to Air Force (5-4) will be remembered as a missed opportunity to stop a streak of five straight Falcon wins over the Black Knights. A win would also have given Army (3-6) a chance at the Commander In Chief’s Trophy and the trip to the White House that goes with it. The win over Army secured retention of the prized Trophy for Air Force in 2011. On Oct. 1 they had a 35-34 overtime win over Navy.
Army went to Air Force Saturday afternoon as a 16-point underdog, their starting quarterback for 32 straight games before last week Trent Steelman was hurt. The Army defense is young and inconsistent especially on the road. They faced an Air Force team coming off of tough-fought games with the likes of Notre Dame and Boise State. The Falcons had beaten Navy earlier in the year for the first leg of the Commanders In Chief Trophy played between the three service academies.
So how surprised was the crowd of over 46,000 at Falcon Stadium and a national television audience on CBS Network that at the end of the first quarter Army held a 14-0 lead?
Army took the opening kickoff and went 81 yards down the field in 12 plays capped off by a one yard quarterback dive by Max Jenkins for the score. After an Air Force fumble by their quarterback Tim Jefferson at their own 18 yard line, in two plays the Black Knights were back in the end zone on a 13-yard Larry Dixon run.
The second quarter saw more domination by Army, but mistakes which eliminated attainable scores. After two three-and-outs by Air Force, Army drove down to the Air Force seven yard line. On fourth-and-one, Army went for the score and Max Jenkins tried what he achieved in the first quarter, a dive play running behind his freshman center Ryan Powls. Jenkins ran into a mass of players at the line and appeared to stretch his body and the ball sufficiently across the goal line but did not get the call from the referees. A touchdown and field goal opportunity missed for Army.
Near the end of the half following an Air Force fumble, Army started yet another drive down the field on their own 28. In six plays the Black Knights were down to the Falcon 18. Slot back Scott Williams made a slashing run through the right side of the defense and was heading for the goal line before being tackled just short by the Falcons Josh Hall who forced the ball free and punched it towards the end zone. The ball continued rolling through the end zone for a touchback. Army lost another touchdown opportunity that was so close.
This was one of those moments Army fans have come to dread, reminiscent of the play in last year’s Navy game when Trent Steelman had the ball stripped from his hands by Wyatt Middleton who ran the ball back for a touchdown. Never the less Army led by two touchdowns at the half and was dominating on both sides of the ball.
It might have been interesting to have heard Air Force coach Troy Calhoun speak to his team at the half. What he said changed the play of his team which came out on recharged and ready to play while Army lost all their momentum.
In the first half Army out gained Air Force 286-81. All the Army yards were gained on the ground. They controlled the ball 20:34 of the first half. The second half would be a different story.
Off the second half kickoff, Air Force went 60 yards down the field and got on the scoreboard on a field goal by junior Parker Herrington. Later in the quarter Air Force marched down the field led by a 35-yard Tim Jefferson pass to Zack Kauth pass to the Army three. Jefferson ran the ball in himself from the two. Air Force completed a two point conversion on a run by Asher Clark to make the score Army 14 Air Force 11.
Then Army started to self destruct. On the first play of the next Army possession, QB Max Jenkins fumbled a snap from center which was recovered by the Falcons Brady Amack at the Army 29. The Army defense did a great job holding this turnover to a second Parker Herrington field goal but Air Force had tied the game at 14 all with 3:35 to go in the third quarter.
On the next Army possession on fourth down at their own 36, Army tried a fake punt, but the play was botched and Air Force took over at the Army 14. On the fourth play QB Tim Jefferson ran for his second touchdown of the quarter to give Air Force a 21-14 lead.
Then early in the fourth, an Army fumble by fullback Jared Hassin was recovered by Jon Davis giving the Falcons procession at the Army 19. This possession was again slowed by the Army defense but resulted in Parker Herrington’s third field goal of the half from 39 yards out to give Air Force a 24 to 14 lead.
Army threatened late in the fourth with a first down at the Air Force 30, but after an incompletion, Max Jenkins was intercepted by Jon Davis at his own 19.
In the second half Air Force out gained Army 220 to 80 and in passing 122 to 26. Army seems to struggle in the second half of games. The opponents seem to find remedies to the Army option attack.
Afterwards, Army coach Rich Ellerson spoke with Tony Marino of the Army Sports Network about what led to the loss to Air Force:
“Penalties, turnovers, and missed opportunities. We played hard, our guys competed hard, but we did not play well enough.
About the success in the first half:
“We had some takeaways in the first half, we had some stops, that is a prolific outfit on offense that Air Force has. We made a couple of plays, we got a couple of takeaways, we were productive on offense. We held on to the football, we did all the things you need to do to win a game, except we did not finish a couple of opportunities. We had a chance to be in the end zone twice and managed to not do it.
About the second half:
“In the second half, it is a tale of turnovers and penalties. We can still move the ball, we had plenty of chances.”
The Black Knights now must regroup and get set to play Rutgers of the Big East, at Yankee Stadium next Saturday. Rutgers is now 6-3 on the year after Saturday’s 20-17 overtime win over South Florida at home.
The game will hopefully see a visit by Rutgers Eric Legrand who was paralyzed last year in the Army game when he tackled Malcolm Brown on a kickoff play. Legrand has been making progress in his recovery and was with Rutgers last week for their game against West Virginia. We hope he will be at Yankee Stadium on Saturday.
We all want to wish Eric continued success on his recovery.
Ken Kraetzer produces the West Point Football Report by Sons of the American Legion radio broadcast Tuesday night’s during the season at 5:30 PM on WVOX 1460 AM in New Rochelle, NY and heard nationally on WVOX.com. Reach Ken on KGK914@aol.com