What started as a dominant performance by Black Knights ended up being a close, thrilling finish in the 17-14 victory by Army.
The game kicked off at noon at Michie Stadium in West Point with cool November and powerful winds, gusting up to 28 knots.
Army’s offense took the field first and slowly chipped away away on a 21 play, 75 yard drive, which took 12 minutes and 55 seconds and resulted in a touchdown.
Tensions were high on the opening drive and tempers flared as Army racked up two personal fouls, but Army’s tenacious offense played patiently and effectively. Their four down offense made for a long day for the Air Force defense as Army’s punter, Nick Shrage only saw the field once in the first half.
Air Force saw the majority of their first half success with Isaiah Sanders’ passing, but they were unable to put points on the scoreboard. Mike Thiessen’s play calling was fairly diverse, but the decision to punt with on a 4th & 2 led commentators and fans alike scratching their heads. Air Force was already down 14 points and although they would receive the ball to start the second half, they would have to find a way to combat Army’s slow, methodical attack.
The Falcons benched starting quarterback Isaiah Sanders in the second half in favor of Donald Hammond III despite Sanders completing five of seven passes for 77 yards in the first half.
Hammond appeared more decisive than Sanders. He was quick on quarterback draws and was able to breathe some life into Air Force. On a 34 yard drive, primarily consisting of runs from Hammond and the hard-nosed fullback Cole Fagan, the Falcons found the end zone. On the try to put the Falcons back within 7 points, Jake Koehnke shanked a kick that ricocheted off the uprights to keep the score 14-6.
With 54 seconds left in the third quarter, an Army score would have seemingly put the game almost out of reach for the Falcons considering how much time Army is able to take off the clock on their drives. Unfortunately for the Falcons, that’s exactly what Army did.
The drive following the Air Force score took 7 minutes and 19 seconds and resulted in a 30 yard field goal from Army’s John Abercrombie.
With only 8:35 on the clock on the following drive, Donald Hammond initially saw more success running than passing. He and Joseph Saucier were able to get three first downs and they caught a huge break, drawing a pass interference call on 3rd & 10. The Falcons capitalized and Cole Fagan ran a short pass for 30 yards to the Army 14. Three more runs later, Joseph Saucier was able to run into the end zone.
The Air Force offense’s job wasn’t done after scoring the late touchdown. They were still down five points and needed a two point conversion to have a chance to tie with a field goal. An option to the right put Army on their heels and Joseph Saucier brought the game to 14-17.
Now with 5:27 left in the game, Air Force would need a huge stop to get the ball back to try to score. Army was still able to take the clock down to 3:21 before punting away, but Air Force then had a chance send the game into overtime.
From their own 34 yard line, Air Force took over and drove the ball to Army’s 40, highlighted by a 19 yard pass to Geraud Sanders. In a questionable 4th down play call, a failed attempt to convert a quarterback keeper from the shotgun spelled the end of Air Force’s attempt at a comeback.
Army still had to run the clock down from 1:07, but it was no problem for Jeff Monken’s team.
Army has now won 11 straight games at home with their last loss being to Air Force. Army now retains the Commander in Chief’s Trophy because Air Force defeated Navy earlier this season, but Army now has a chance to win it outright on December 8th when they take on Navy. There’s no doubt that Army is running their most effective scheme in years. They control the ball well and dominate in time of possession. They aren’t flashy but they don’t need to be. Jeff Monken is running a strong program and if Army and Navy want to keep up, they need to start taking a page out of his book.
As for Air Force, they now have three Mountain West Conference games left in their season and even winning out will result in basically no tangible reward. The word that can define the season at this point is confusion. Air Force has deep talent. They have several injuries and the players replacing them are talented, but between the smoke and mirror games of Air Force refusing to name their defensive coordinator, a revolving door of starting quarterbacks, and play calling that never seems to be overly concerned about scoring, the Falcons need to re-evaluate their methods in the upcoming offseason, especially if they want to have a chance at winning back the CiC because Army is only getting better.