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Army Football Season Recap: One For the History Books

The Army Football team won 11 games for the first time ever. Let’s take a look back at their incredible season

NCAA Football: Army at Navy Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

To say this was a good season for the Army football team would be quite the understatement:

  • 11 wins for the first time in school history
  • Back-to-back 10 win seasons for the first time in school history
  • The first 1000/1000 QB in school history
  • Back-to-back CiC trophies with wins over Air Force and Army
  • Undefeated at Michie Stadium
  • Ranked in the top 25 for the first time in over two decades with a nearly guaranteed top 20 finish on tap
  • An utter demolishing of Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl to cap it all off

They outscored their opponents by more than two touchdowns per game, and you can point to the schedule all you want, but they faced five bowl-bound programs and took the sixth to the woodshed by beating them 70-14 in their own bowl game. Justify the season however you like, but the rankings show just how effective and efficient this Army team was this season:

  • 2nd in rushing yards per game with 312.5 a contest
  • 2nd in rushing TDs with 47
  • 1st in 3rd down conversion percentage at 57.1 percent
  • 1st in 4th down conversion percentage at an astonishing 86.1 percent
  • 9th in yards allowed per game with just 294
  • 20th in pass yards allowed per game with 185.3
  • 12th in rush yards allowed per game with a paltry 106.8
  • 13th in points allowed per game at just 17
  • 3rd in 3rd down conversion defense at just .267
  • 1st in time of possession at 38 minutes a game

This is a team that got it done in all facets of the game. On offense, they converted on 3rd and 4th down more than any other team in the country, which kept those long drives going and helped them lead the country in time of possession. On defense, they got off the field on third down better than nearly every team in the FBS, giving their offense more possessions and helping out that time of possession stat as well.

Offense:

The offense was led by junior quarterback Kelvin Hopkins, Jr. I know I voted Darnell Woolfolk MVP on offense, but after the Armed Forces Bowl performance, it’s hard to ignore Hopkins performance across the entire season. He led the team in rushing with 1,017 yards gained on the ground. He also led the team in rushing touchdowns with 17. He passed for 1,026 yards and six touchdowns against just three interceptions, becoming the first quarterback in Army history to pass and rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

Woolfolk was no slouch, either. The senior fullback was second on the team with 956 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns, giving him 37 for his illustrious career.

Senior Jordan Asberry led the way receiving with 219 yards and 4 TDs.

The offensive line was paced by four year starter Bryce Holland at center. He and Jax Deaton paved the way for the second most prolific rushing attack in the FBS.

Defense:

On defense, James Nachtigal was the star of the show and our MVP. He led the team with 97 tackles, was second with 9 tackles for loss, led the team with 8.5 sacks, and led the team with five forced fumbles. His bowl performance against Houston was one for the ages as he had 16 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles.

He was joined by Cole Christiansen at the linebacker position. Christiansen was second on the team with 77 tackles but led the way with 12 tackles for loss on the year. The defensive backfield was impressive as well, with Elijah Riley and Jaylon McClinton neck and neck all year. Riley ended up with 55 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 10 pass breakups. McClinton, who was the star of the defense in the Army-Navy game, had 54 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles. Add in the play of James Gibson and Cameron Jones and the defensive backfield was and will continue to be a force to be reckoned with.

On special teams, John Abercrombie finally got his chance and all he did was miss one kick all season. The former Sprint Football player finished 8-9 on FGs and a perfect 46-46 on XPs.

Season Rewind:

Let’s take a quick look back at how the Black Knights reached their historic 11-2 season.

The opening game of the year was by far the worst performance for Army. They traveled to Durham to take on the Duke Blue Devils and a couple of first half fumbles put them in a 17-0 deficit at the half. Hopkins was able to bring them back largely through a surprising passing attack, including a 45 yard TD to Cam Harrison to get them back within 10 at 24-14 in the 3rd quarter, but the sluggish start and miscues proved too much to overcome as they fell 34-14 to the Blue Devils.

Army then opened up its home slate against FBS newcomer Liberty, and they welcomed the Flames by racking up 449 yards rushing and jumping out to a 24-0 lead in the game before finishing them of 38-14. Woolfolk led the way on the ground with 98 yards rushing and Jaylon McClinton and Cameron Jones each had fumble recoveries to pace the defense.

The Black Knights continued their winning ways at home the next time out as they defeated Hawaii in a back-and-forth affair that saw them trade touchdowns in the first half with Army leading 21-14 at halftime and extending that lead to 28-14 in the fourth quarter before a furious rally by the Rainbow Warriors fell short and Army held on to win 28-21 to move to 2-1 on the year. Hopkins led the way with 110 yards on the ground and 2 touchdowns and Kenneth Brinson led the charge on defense with 6 tackles, 2 TFL, and 2 sacks.

Army’s next game may have been its most impressive performance of the year, rivaling its drubbings of Buffalo and San Jose State and its demolition of Houston in the bowl game. The Black Knights traveled to Norman, OK and gave the CFP-bound Sooners all they could handle, taking them to overtime before finally falling short 28-21. Army used a combination of keep away and offensive precision to keep the game tight throughout and probably giving a few heart attacks throughout the greater Norman region. The Black Knights held the ball for 45 MINUTES in the game. That’s 3 quarters of football! The upset was not to be, though, as Army would lose for the last time all season, setting themselves up for their unprecedented run.

Army then took on previously unbeaten Buffalo and absolutely crushed them on the road, taking a 7-7 first quarter game and running away with it the rest of the way. This was highlighted by an 80 yard blocked field goal returned for a touchdown by Elijah Riley in the second quarter that put them up 21-7 and was cemented by three late touchdowns that game them the 42-13 victory over the Bulls.

They followed that up by heading out west to take on San Jose State and coming away with a 52-3 victory. The Spartans went up 3-0 in the only points of the first quarter before the Black Knights rattled off 52 straight that included 3 Hopkins rushing TDs, a defensive touchdown by Nachtigal, and FOUR consecutive drives by San Jose State that resulted in fumbles.

Army then eeked out a nail biter against Miami of Ohio 31-30 in overtime. Leading 21-7 late in the fourth quarter, the Red Hawks scored two touchdowns in the final 4:23, including a TD with just 17 seconds left that sent the game to overtime. After swapping field goals in the first overtime, Miami (OH) decided to go for the win following a touchdown that brought them within an XP of sending the game to a third OT. The two-point conversion attempt was no good, however, and Army escaped to move to 5-2 and stay unbeaten at home.

Army became bowl eligible in the next game as they used another impressive performance against a future bowl-bound team on the road in Eastern Michigan. A 100/100 game from Hopkins that saw him go 7-8 with 126 yards and two touchdowns through the air paved the way as the Black Knights knocked off the Eagles 37-22.

The next game saw Army in its first CIC competition as they welcomed Air Force to New York and proceeded to win their fourth straight service academy competition 17-14. Army took a 14-0 lead into halftime, prompting an Air Force qb switch which helped spark the Falcons. Donald Hammond III got them within a score in the third quarter, and followed that up with a late fourth quarter touchdown and two-point conversion that made it 17-14, but the Black Knights defense stood tall and Army knew it would retain the CIC trophy at worst as it moved to 7-2.

The next two games saw some FCS competition against Patriot League foes Lafayette and Colgate, with Army winning both of those contests to improve to 9-2, setting up the annual Army-Navy game in Philadelphia on the 8th of December.

The Army defense swarmed all over the field against Navy, forcing a QB switch that wasn’t enough to spark the Mids to a comeback victory, and Hopkins and co. did what they needed to do to seal the game on offense. Similar to the Air Force game, Army took a 7-0 lead into halftime that should have been much bigger. The only touchdown of the half came on the first drive as Hopkins scored from 10 yards out on a QB keeper. A missed FG and a series of punts forced by inopportune dropped passes saw the game remain 7-0 at the half. Army was able to add a field goal on its first possession of the third quarter to make it 10-0. Navy finally got on the board on a Garret Lewis TD run to make it 10-7, but Army would force a fumble by Zach Abey on the next Mids possession and would turn that into seven more points as they went ahead 17-7. Bennett Moehring would add a FG for Navy to make it 17-10, but Army would leave with the CIC trophy and a third straight victory over Navy. Four turnovers for the Black Knights defense was the name of the game.

In the bowl game, Army absolutely embarrassed Houston, potentially being the reason Major Applewhite gets fired. 5 rushing TDs and 170 yards on the ground from Hopkins to go with the performance of a lifetime on defense by Nachtigal mentioned earlier led to the 70-14 drubbing and put a stamp on what will go down as one of the most successful Army seasons of all-time and certainly the best season in modern memory.

2018 was truly a season for the ages for the Black Knights and the Army faithful have a ton to look forward to as they return Hopkins, most of the offensive line, and seven total starters on offense, as well as the majority of their impressive defensive backfield and six starters on defense. Jeff Monken has established Army as the premier service academy football team now, and with a 2019 schedule very similar to the one this year, there is no reason to think they won’t be headed for another 10 win season again.

Oh, and they get Michigan in the Big House the second week of the season!

Here’s to looking back fondly on one of the greatest service academy football seasons in recent memory and a near certainty that Army will end up ranked in the top 20 once bowl season has sorted itself out!