Air Force overcomes Army to keep Commander in Chief's Trophy

  • Published
  • By Don Branum
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
In the U.S. Air Force Academy Falcons' battle to keep the Commander in Chief's trophy, the U.S. Military Academy Black Knights (Army) drew first blood ... and second, and if not for a few big plays on defense, they would also have drawn third, fourth and fifth blood.

But Air Force's defense continued to make plays in the second half, forcing three fumbles to set up 24 unanswered points and a 24-14 Air Force victory.

Air Force's offense didn't spend much time on the field in the first half, with less than 10 minutes time of possession. When they had the ball, they appeared to have trouble finding their rhythm. The Falcons went three and out on their first possession, and quarterback Tim Jefferson fumbled on the first play of their second possession. That fumble and Army's recovery led to the Black Knights' second touchdown to take a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.

The Black Knights ran for almost 300 yards in the first half, helping keep the Falcons' offense off the field. But while moving the ball downfield came easily for the Knights, scoring did not: in five first-half trips inside the red zone, Army scored only 14 points.

Air Force's first red zone stop came on Army's second drive, with Ryan Gardner and Jordan Waiwaiole stuffing Larry Dixon on fourth and 2 from the Falcons' 19. The second came at the goal line, this time with Alex Means and Brady Amack combining to stop Army quarterback Max Jenkins inches shy of the goal line.

The third key play came within 30 seconds of halftime, when Falcons defensive back Josh Hall stripped Army running back Josh Hall of the ball just outside the goal line. The ball bounced out of the end zone for a touchback, and the Falcons went into the locker room with a flicker of life, trailing 14-0.

"I thought they came out and slugged us right in the face, and they knocked us on our heels," said Falcons head coach Troy Calhoun. "That's a real credit to their coaches and the young men at West Point."

Army Lt. Gen. David Huntoon, the U.S. Military Academy superintendent, said he was pleased with the halftime score.

"I learned long ago not to predict the outcome of football games, especially service academy games," Huntoon said. "But I'm delighted right now."

Air Force, which came in with a 4-13 record when their opponents scored first, faced an uphill climb in the second half, but while the Knights had the lead, the Falcons had the momentum. They emerged from the locker room looking like the team that had put a scare into the No. 3 Boise State Broncos Oct. 22, blitzing down the field in their first possession of the second half. Parker Herrington kicked his first of three field goals to give the Falcons their first points of the day.

After Air Force's defense stopped Army at midfield, the Falcons struck again. Jefferson got the Falcons into striking range with passes of 21 yards and 35 yards to Joshua Freeman and Zack Kauth to set up a 2-yard touchdown run. Asher Clark carried in the two-point conversion to make it 14-11. A fumbled snap on Army's next possession set up Herrington's second field goal of the game to tie the score.

On the Knights' subsequent possession, the Falcons again held fast, forcing fourth and six from the Army 36. In a play reminiscent of Air Force's failed fake punt against Boise State, Army receiver Justin Allen fumbled the handoff from punter Kolin Walk, and Stephan Atrice recovered for Air Force at the Army 14. Four plays later, Jefferson ran untouched into the end zone to give Air Force the go-ahead touchdown.

Two more Army turnovers in the fourth quarter sealed the game for the Falcons. Jon Davis forced a fumble from Army running back Jared Hassin and ran it back to the Army 19, setting up Herrington's third field goal of the day. Davis also intercepted Army's Jenkins at the Air Force 30 with 2:37 to play, allowing the Falcons to run out the clock.

"In the second half, it was a tale of turnovers for us," said Army head coach Rich Ellerson. "We like to play, and we've got to play better. These guys love to compete, and they love to play hard. They just need to be better. If you don't do the things consistently that measure success, then the scoreboard is going to be upside-down like it was today."

The Falcons held Army to 80 yards of total offense in the second half. Jefferson finished six-of-twelve for 122 yards in the air. Army held the Falcons' third-ranked rushing offense to 200 yards, including 66 by Jefferson and 78 by Clark.

The Falcons face Mountain West Conference rival the University of Wyoming at home Nov. 12.