By John Van Winkle
Academy Public Affairs
A linebacker’s halftime rant and an unexpected aerial attack gave the Air Force Academy a 35-7 win over Army Saturday at home.
The battle of service academy rivals was “bone against bone, knuckles rubbing against knuckles,” said Falcons head football coach Troy Calhoun.
The first score came from special teams, when Falcons cornerback Anthony Wright took a punt at the Air Force 12-yard line.
“When I caught the ball, I saw a couple of Army guys around me. I was fortunate enough to make the miss,” said Wright. “Then I saw 10 of my teammates in front of me and I took it to the house.”
The house was 88 yards away up the right sideline. As Wright hit the end zone, he celebrated with a little dance.
“I watched Deion Sanders growing up, so I had to pay homage to him on that play,” Wright admitted with a grin.
Placekicker Erik Soderberg added the extra point and gave Air Force a 7-0 lead.
Army tied the score on a 42-yard run by quarterback Trent Steelman on a keeper. Air Force’s safeties had been covering the pitchman when Army took the option wide to work the edges, and turn Steelman back inside, but Steelman broke containment to give Army something to put on the scoreboard.
After that, it became a battle of field position as the Army defense stifled Air Force’s option attack, daring the Falcons to pass. Coming into the game, Air Force was fourth in the nation in rushing offense, but next-to-last in the nation in passing offense. When the half ended, Army was able to hold Air Force to 4 yards rushing on 21 carries and 39 yards of total offense.
“My hat’s off to Army,” Calhoun said. “They came in exceptionally well-prepared and played great football. In the first half, they dominated the football game. We were fortunate to be tied up at the half.”
There was a spark missing in the first half, he added. “Everybody was looking over his shoulder to see if someone else on the team was going to make a play.”
That spark came to the Falcons in the form of a halftime rant by linebacker Andre Morris, Jr., said quarterback Tim Jefferson. After the junior linebacker vented, the team took their attitude adjustment out onto the playing field and started dealing with the Black Knights.
“That second half, we came out on fire,” said Falcons halfback Asher Clark.
With Army concentrating on stopping the run, Air Force went to the air to take the pressure off their running game, and kept pounding away with Clark and fullback Jared Tew.
“We were going to dare them to try to throw the ball,” said Army head coach Rich Ellerson. “When they had to, they did, and we weren’t up for it. Against a team that ‘s going to involve the quarterback’s legs like they do, and is as good with the option part of their game as they are, there are going to be one-on-ones, and you have to hang in there one-on-one.”
The balanced Air Force attack was one of those one-on-one battles the Falcons won to take the lead in their first possession of the half. Clark broke loose of the pack to dash 36 yards for the touchdown and the lead. Soderberg’s extra point put the Falcons in the lead 14-7.
Air Force’s defense shut down the next Army drive, and the Falcons offense got into full gear. After Clark rushed for 13 yards, Jefferson aired the ball out to wide receiver Kevin Fogler, who ran it to paydirt for a 73 yard TD, putting Air Force up 21-7 late in the third quarter.
“You’ve got to find ways to get him the ball,” said Jefferson. Fogler ended the game with three catches for 29 yards, and that one touchdown.
“We were trying like crazy to get out of that third quarter and see if we could take that as a one-possession game going into the fourth quarter. We were outcoached, no doubt about it,” Ellerson said. “We got outplayed, we got outhit. They got very patient with the fullback and they had a couple of ideas and made us pay for them. They didn’t get a little bit, they got a lot.”
Teamwork gave Air Force another score to put the game out of reach.
After driving the length of the field, Tew had the big play of the series, with a bruising 19-yard run to make it first and goal at the Army 4. Tew took it forward another two yards. Jefferson ran off the right guard on a keeper, and Tew came up behind Jefferson to help him over the goal line. Another Soderberg extra point gave the Air Force Academy freshman cadets 28 pushups to do in the end zone as Air Force went up 28-7.
Air Force would add another touchdown by Clark late in the fourth quarter to secure a 35-7 victory over Army. With the win, The Air Force Academy is now bowl-eligible at 6-4.
“We’ll burn the film from the first half, and review the film of the second half,” Calhoun joked.
After the loss, Army falls to 3-6 on the season and must win all of its remaining games to become bowl-eligible.
“This is the time of year, this challenges your soul. It’s a real challenge for this football team to stay together,” Ellerson said.
After the game, both teams banded together to hold hands and sing each other’s alma mater. After the Army’s song was done, fans were cheering “Beat Navy.”
Army returns home to face VMI on Nov. 14, and hits the road to battle North Texas on Nov. 21. Then Army closes out its season with the classic Army-Navy game on Dec. 12 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
The Academy’s next game is its final home game of the season, versus Mountain West Conference foe UNLV (3-6, 1-4) Nov. 14 with kickoff is set for 4 p.m. MST. Air Force will close out its regular season Nov. 21 against BYU (7-2, 4-1) in Utah.