If you were a college football enthusiast, the idea of attending a fall classic between Army & Air Force on a crisp (45 degrees) November afternoon against the backdrop of the expressive autumn foliage, who be exactly what the football doctor would have ordered.
The game that took place at Michie Stadium, home of the Black Knights pitted the nation's No. 1 & 2 rushing offenses against one another ... or more so, against each other's defense. Coming into the game, Army rushing attack was lead by slotback Raymond Maples (834 yards), while the Falcon's attack is connected to running back Cody Getz's 928 yards.
But neither player would surpass the century mark today. However for Army it was their balanced rushing attack, along with a two pleasant surprises in their game plan that would see the Black Knights bump rush Air Force, 41-21.
Surprise number one and the major factor in Army's take down of Air Force, was their defense, which on the season had been their Achilles Heel. Lead by senior captain and linebacker Nate Combs, who was returning to the line-up after missing the last two games due to injury.
However, it wasn't just the Combs' show defensively. Fellow linebacker Geoffrey Bacon, was all over the field, where the sophomore registered a team high 13 tackles and a very timely interception in the 2nd quarter. It would be Bacon's pick that would end Air Force's drive and net the Black Knights 3 more points on a Daniel Grochowski field goal to close out the first half with Army leading 20-7.
From the very beginning, it was really Army's swagger that was noticeable as soon as the team hit the field to start the contest. And the players and coaches did not let up off the pedal until the final whistle.
After taking the opening kick-off, the Black Knights marched 66 yards on 13 plays while utilizing 6:32 of the clock. And although Air Force would answer the call on their first possession of the game to tie the score (7-7) ... that would pretty much be all she wrote for the Falcons' offense on the day.
One could say that when the electrical power went out at Michie Stadium with 4:30 remaining in the 1st quarter, so did the Air Force offense due to a storming Army defense.
With the scored tied 7-7 to begin the 2nd quarter and the Falcons marching to take the lead, the 'turning point' of the ball game occurred on 4th & goal on the 1-yard line as quarterback Connor Dietz was held for no gain and Army took over at their own 1-yard line.
This resulted in the shift of the "Mo" in the contest and Army would never look back.
While the offense would add 13 second quarter points to take a 20-7 into halftime, it was the "D" that would make big play after big play. You could pick from the constant interior pressure provided by defensive tackle Bobby Kough, who picked a great day to have his coming out ball game.
"He's (Kough) a relatively young guy from a football standpoint," says Army head coach, Rich Ellerson. "He's been here awhile, but he hasn't played a lot of football. You can see every week he's getting more and more comfortable with the job description. He's one of those guys with some real playmaking ability."
Kough offered his on explanation relative to Saturday's performance. "I think it was the energy coming out. All the defensive linemen were getting to the ball. We were just working hard today; we were excited," he declared.
Then there was the 2nd quarter interception by free safety Brandon Fusilier-Jeffires, that eventually saw the offense march 43 yards on 8 plays, topped off by 1-yard QB sneak touchdown from Trent Steelman. But it was on this drive that Surprise #2 was in full effect in Army's arsenal. Steelman connected on a pitch & catch for 17 yards to Chevaughn Lawrence on a crucial 3rd & 7. But the senior signal-caller was effective on other several passes, including one well executed 53 yarder to Maples out of the backfield as part of the Black Knights' 11 play - 96 yard drive and 1st quarter score (20 yard field goal).
The 3rd Quarter
Who can forget last year's meltdown to Air Force, where Army took a 14-0 lead into the halftime locker, only to suffer another loss to the Falcons. The question and the buzz around the stadium was contagious. Could Army withstand an Air Force 2nd half surge?
"We just made sure that everybody understood what we were saying to one another," said Ellerson, when asked by GoBlackKnights.com what his halftime comments were to his team in relation to today's game and last year 2nd half collapse. "The mantra is, 'the next snap.' How do you win a football game? You win the next snap. If you do that enough times, you will like what the scoreboard looks like. Sometimes you have to control the voices around you. That was the message at halftime. We need to understand how precious these games are, and how precious these snaps are. If you don't believe me, ask a senior. This is a huge part of their life that we're getting down to the last few acts. They all believed that, and held onto each other and reinforced it with each other."
And that's exactly what manifested itself during the 3rd quarter. Army's defense continued the swarming pressure where they hailed Air Force to zero first downs. While on the other hand, the Black Knights offense registered 8 first downs. Even more telling was holding Air Force to 6 yards in total offense that quarter, compared to Army's 119 yards.
In the end, it was too much Army .... offensively and defensively, as the Black Knights put on their best overall performance of the year in front of 37,707, who hope that Saturday's play will carry over to the Army's upcoming contest with Rutgers.
"They played a great game, offensively, defensively, they did everything we didn't, they smacked us in the mouth all game, they deserved to win this game," shared Air Force quarterback Connor Dietz after the ball game.
But before heading to Piscataway, New Jersey ... Coach Ellerson, his staff and players at least deserve the day to enjoy this moment. A moment that Ellerson acknowledged as being his biggest thus far as the Army Black Knights' head coach.
"It's the biggest win of the week!," says the sarcastically joking head coach, who went on to put Saturday's win in perspective. "No, it is (biggest win as Army's head coach). When you get here, on day one, it's Beat Navy, Beat Air Force. We've got half the equation right."
Ball State: 21
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