Despite another dynamite effort from his defense, Stan Brock could only watch as a first-drive touchdown became Army's last of the afternoon. The Black Knights have lost many games like this one in past years, but rarely--if ever--has the Brave Old Army Team grabbed a lead as quickly as it did against the Falcons from Colorado Springs. Less than 90 seconds into this Commander-in-Chief contest, the home folks--unable to attend another game in West Point until 2009--had reason to believe that Michie Stadium would receive a special season-ending sendoff. Instead, Army couldn't make the magic last.
When no one's seat had gotten warm in the ballpark, Brock and the Army braintrust flatly fooled the Air Force defense. The Black Knights--rarely willing to throw the ball--did exactly that with quarterback Chip Bowden, and a flat pass to Damion Hunter covered 47 yards for an immediate piece of paydirt, with 13:42 left in quarter number one. Not only had Army taken a lightning-quick lead; the Black Knights' ability to score through the air gave them a legitimate chance of keeping the Falcons' defense off balance for the rest of the afternoon.
It wasn't to be, however.
Army wouldn't touch the scoreboard in the game's remaining 58 minutes and 18 seconds, as an early explosion could not be supplemented with sustained success. A 60-yard march out of the starting block represented nearly 25 percent of the Black Knights' offensive output. Considering a very effective punting game from the Falcons, which flipped the field throughout the afternoon, any of the 190 yards Army gained after its first touchdown drive were not enough to produce additional points.
Once again, the loss could not be attributed to Army's defense. The visitors from the Mountain West Conference were smothered and smacked around by the black-shirted bruisers who allowed only one touchdown of their own. The Falcons found only 174 yards in their own offensive arsenal, and the fact that Air Force kicked two field goals of under 30 yards indicated that the Black Knights were resolute in the red zone as well. Moreover, Army's defense stopped Air Force on a whopping 12 of 13 third-down plays. Throw in the fact that the Falcons committed eight penalties for 95 yards, and Army had all the ingredients for its first home win against Air Force in the past six attempts.
Except offense, that is.
In what has been--and will continue to be--part of a long and gradual process, this program--which is legitimately competitive--needs to slowly but surely find the weapons that can take a 16-7 loss and turn it into a 23-16 win.
In this attempt to find new ways of scoring, Brock inserted backup quarterback--and 2007 starter--Carson Williams under center with less than five minutes remaining in regulation and his team down by only six at 13-7. But when Williams fired a string of incomplete passes, Air Force was able to tack on a third field goal for the final margin of victory. Brock pushed buttons when his team needed a different answer, but the end result remained the same.
All in all, this shouldn't rate as too discouraging a loss for the Black Knights. Service academy games are always spirited, physical affairs in which points are conceded grudgingly and emotions run higher than normal. It's to Army's credit that, unlike past games against Air Force (and Navy, for that matter), things didn't get out of hand by the third quarter. Competing on roughly even terms for 60 minutes, while preventing the Falcons from cracking the end zone more than once, should remind Army how well this team has fought in 2008. The Brave Old Army Team, though disappointed by its inability to win this year's home finale, should simply tip the cap to its brothers from the Air Force Academy. Playing in a loaded Mountain West, the Falcons--with TCU and BYU still on their schedule--stand at 7-2 after this victory, which means that coach Troy Calhoun should get his team to yet another bowl game. Iconic leader Fisher DeBerry--who made Air Force football into a solid program--might be long gone, but the crew from Colorado can still rumble with the best of them in the Rocky Mountains.
Saturday in West Point, Army sought to control its own destiny in the Commander-in-Chief derby, with Navy looming just a month away. The fact that the Black Knights came up empty against a bowl-bound team should not allow them to feel that their vigorous effort was wasted. One day's "one and done," if viewed as a motivational tool, will lead to more big plays and sustained superiority in future throwdowns. One disappointing loss can always set the stage for a brighter tomorrow, a tomorrow that could emerge on Dec. 6 against the Midshipmen from Annapolis. If this loss to an academy team hurts, Army can always bounce back against the military outfit it really loves to beat. And that, sports fans, will make this season a very happy one on the banks of the Hudson.