Coming into the game against SMU, Army’s struggles in pass coverage were well-documented. The Mustangs burned the Black Knights for 45 yards on the first play from scrimmage when Kyle Padron found Aldrick Robinson downfield.
Here we go again, right?
We saw this against Air Force, Notre Dame, and Navy in recent weeks. Then, after a 6 yard completion by Padron, the complexion of the game changed completely.
Zach Watts got to Padron for a sack and forced a fumble, scooped up by Josh McNary who was escorted by Stephen Anderson 55 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Army lead with 13:33 remaining in the first quarter. The two seniors, McNary and Anderson, were major factors in a huge effort by the Army defense. They were the epitome of “bend, but don’t break,” seemingly forcing turnovers every time they were backed up against their goal line.
After a missed field goal by SMU kicker Matt Szymanski, the Black Knights took over on their own 20 yard line and drove 80 yards for a touchdown. The eight-play drive featured four different rushers, a Trent Steelman completion to Davyd Brooks for a first down, and was aided by an SMU pass interference penalty. The drive was capped by a 13 yard touchdown run by Malcolm Brown. Alex Carlton’s extra point attempt was blocked by Marcus Hunt, leaving the score at 13-0 in favor of the Black Knights with 5:26 remaining in the first quarter.
SMU looked poised to answer on their next drive, but Stephen Anderson intercepted a Padron pass at the Army 15 yard line to preserve the Army lead. After a Jonathan Bulls punt, Padron was intercepted again, this time by Josh Jackson.
An Alex Carlton field goal with 2:39 left in the first half gave Army a 16-0 lead.
After Army’s opening possession of the second half ended with a punt, SMU was able to drive 92 yards on 13 plays to cut the lead to 16-7. The Black Knights forced SMU to eat up six minutes on the drive, leaving 2:56 remaining in the third quarter with each team only having one second half possession.
Another Jonathan Bulls punt set up a 74 yard drive by the Mustangs, capped by a Padron touchdown pass to Darius Johnson, which cut Army’s lead to 16-14 with 9:20 left in the game.
Deep in their own territory, Army was only able to eat up a minute of the remaining time while going three-and-out. The Black Knights were bailed out by a 57 yard punt by Bulls, which gave Army’s defense a reasonable chance at slowing down the second half SMU onslaught. The mustangs did drive down to the Army 30 yard line, but Szymanski was off target again.
After picking up a first down which allowed them to continue ticking time off the clock, Army sealed the game with a gutsy call. The Black Knights rolled Steelman to his right, completing a 22 yard pass to Davyd Brooks on third down. Steelman then took a knee on the next snap, and the bowl victory was sealed.
What Went Right: Defense, turnovers. The defense gutted out this win against a high-powered offense that was averaging almost 26 points a game, and held them to 14 points. The defense was aided by three turnovers – two interceptions and McNary’s fumble return for a touchdown.
What Went Wrong: The offense did not put up as many points as was anticipated, but they got the job done. It wasn’t pretty, but in the end it worked.
Player of the Game: LB Stephen Anderson. This was difficult. McNary had the big touchdown, Hassin was consistent again and broke the 1,000 yard mark rushing, but Anderson was all over the field in his final outing as the leader of Army’s defense. His performance, and that of the defense in general, was a microcosm of his time at West Point. He battled for four quarters, and was able to grind out a win. Anderson finished the day with 14 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss including half a sack, and the big interception deep in Army territory. His graduation will leave a gaping hole in the middle of the Army defense, and from a leadership perspective.
Final Word: Army accomplished some great things with this game. They were able to bring winning football back to the United States Military Academy, finishing 7-6. This is the first winning record for the Black Knights since 1996. They defeated a team that entered the game with a winning record for the first time since 2005. Jared Hassin became the first sophomore to rush for 1,000 yards at Army since Mike Mayweather in 1988. With the victory, Ellerson became the first coach to win 12 games in his first two years at Army since Tom Cahill did in 1966-67. The win was a fitting end for the senior class, who did what they set out to do – bring winning football back to West Point.
Coach Rich Ellerson was also able to beat out a very formidable opponent in his former teammate, June Jones. Jones and SMU honored the Black Knights by wearing black uniforms during the game, a very classy move by the program. Jones has his team moving in the right direction and Padron looks like he will grow into a very good quarterback.
A lot will be changing before next season in terms of personnel, which I will take a look at later this week. For now, heading into the 2011 season with a winning record under his belt has to be a boost to Coach Ellerson.
About the Author
Written by Donald Lappe
Senior at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Double Major in Media & Society and United States History. Also writing for TapouT Magazine and MMA Worldwide Magazine.