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Army Football comes up just short against Air Force

Despite late defensive stand, Air Force did not look like two score favorites.

NCAA Football: Army at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

I had the privilege of attending the Army/Air Force game in person on press credentials for Against All Enemies. It was my first experience attending a game in that capacity, and it was an amazing experience. I had a chance to shake Army Athletic Director Mike Buddie’s hand, and had an unparalleled point of view of the game right at field level, and I can’t wait to do it again.

Unfortunately, despite the awesome experience, Army was unable to walk away with a win. The Black Knights have now dropped to 3-6 on the season after a 17-13 loss to Air Force. After having Kelvin Hopkins and Jabari Laws go down in last weekend’s game versus San Jose State, one of the biggest questions heading into Air Force was who would start at QB for Army? Both Laws and Hopkins took pre-game snaps, and Laws got the start and played a majority of the game until the final minute or so when he was on the receiving end of a targeting penalty.

It appeared as though Army played above expectations, but Air Force played below expectations. There were predictions that after two straight losses to Army, that Air Force would look to embarrass Army, and entering the game as two-score favorites, that possibility didn’t seem out of the question. However, after a scoreless first quarter, it was Army that took a 6-3 lead into halftime.

Offense

After a (questionable) call which ruled Army short of a touchdown and gave Air Force the ball back with a turnover on downs, Army seemed to find decent success moving the ball down the field until they hit the red zone. Between a handful of big run plays in the first half, and several pass plays from Army, the offense seemed to sputter out the closer it got to the end zone. Conversely, Air Force seemed to move more methodically down the field on its scoring drives.

NCAA Football: Army at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

However, both teams punted a number of times after stalling out on three-and-out situations. Heading into this game, most analysis seemed to indicate that Army would find success on the ground whereas Air Force would likely come with a more pass-happy approach. In reality, Army and Air Force amassed 343 and 344 yards respectively. For Army, 214 of those yards came through the air as opposed to Air Force’s 16 yards passing.

At the end of the day, Army’s offense was unable to get points on the board in the situations where it needed to the most. The fact that they were just one score away from winning makes it all the more painful.

Defense

Although still struggling to get pressure on Air Force QBs, Army’s defense did manage several several third down stops, and forced the Falcons to punt on a handful of occasions which is a marked improvement over the past several games. On the other side, Air Force did a great job of bottling up Army’s run game, but they still allowed over 200 yards passing from an Army team that has struggled greatly to move the ball through the air.

NCAA Football: Army at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It did not prove to be a difference maker, but Army did force the lone turnover, with Elijah Riley intercepting a pass from Donald Hammond at the end of the second half. The Black Knights and Falcons both allowed the opposing offense to go 5-13 on 3rd down; however, Air Force managed to hold Army to 1 for 3 on 4th down. And one of those 4th down stops came in the waning seconds of the game as Army tried to score a touchdown to win the game. Ultimately, the Falcons were able to make the critical stops when they absolutely needed to in order to win the game.

Special Teams

Nothing terribly spectacular happened on special teams with the exception of a kickoff that went out-of-bounds for Air Force, and an unnecessary roughness penalty on Army on another return. However, the Black Knights did miss a PAT after their first touchdown which meant that they had to go for the touchdown and the win at the end of the game as opposed to potentially opting for a field goal to send the game to overtime.

Watching the game in person, I felt much better than I did watching previous losses. It looked like Army was taking steps in the right direction, and stand a good chance of winning out in their schedule even against the likes of Hawaii and Navy. It was a tough loss to swallow, but it appeared to be a much better team effort than the previous three or four weeks. Giving credit where it is due, the Falcons stepped up and made the plays they needed to when it counted to win the game.

While the outcome may not have been what Army was looking for, and may not have been the statement win that Air Force expected, both teams should come out of the game with positives as they head into the final stretches of their respective seasons.