Sunday, October 22, 2017

Madness! Army Steals Victory at Michie Stadium

Wow.  Well, to say the very least, that did not play out the way that I thought it would.  I mean, I said before the game that I thought the key would be Army's getting pressure on Temple's quarterback, and in a certain sense that proved true, but...

Who could predict that?

Let's start with these outstanding highlights, courtesy of the American Athletic Conference (AAC).

My daughter Emma and her friend Liv went with me to yesterday's game.  We left the house around 8:20, and during the drive up learned that Liv plays midfield and attack on the local girls' lacrosse team.  She is, to say the least, the sportiest of either of my daughters' friends.  She had her arm in a sling yesterday, having broken her collarbone playing tackle football with some of her brother's friends, and honestly, if it weren't for that busted wing, I think she very well might be looking to go out for the high school football team when she finally reaches 9th grade.  She claims to throw a mean spiral.  Regardless, Liv has already played lacrosse at Michie Stadium, and she seems a shoe-in to make the girls' varsity lax team once she does finally reach high school.

We mostly talked fantasy football on the drive up, much to Emma's chagrin.  Unlike me, Liv is actually good at fantasy.  She's 5-1 in the father/child league that her dad set up.  Alas, she's also a Cowboys fan.

Tailgate reunion.
Obligatory selfie, Lusk Reservoir.
From left to right: Liv, Emma, and me.
We reached West Point about 9:45, but for whatever reason, traffic was backed up all over the place.  Attendance at Michie has been low this season, but the fans came out in force yesterday, and despite the massive improvements West Point has made managing traffic flow, there were still some backups at both Stoney Lonesome and Thayer Gate.  We drove north, past Highland Falls and the old Pointers' Echo motel to Stoney Lonesome and then turned back south and hit town from the north side, outflanking traffic via Highland Falls' back streets.  Got on post just before 10:00, waded slowly through the vehicular mosh pit that always attends Buffalo Soldier Field on game days, and finally got to Thayer roof just after 10:00.

Yesterday's tailgate was not a super-elaborate affair.  With my wife Sally out-of-town this weekend, I was left to my own devices to throw basic "man food" together.  This consisted of chips and salsa, hamburgers, hot Italian sausages, sweet Italian sausages, beer, and a handful of buns that I burned to a crisp on the grill through sheer inattention.  That stuff kept us alive--and to be fair, Liv really liked it--but I'm not sure that it counts as nutritionally balanced.

If you're wondering, beer was primarily Two Roads' Expressway Coffee Stout.  It's become my go-to tailgating beer.

My good friend and classmate Keith met us yesterday for the tailgate.  He's from the area around Tampa, Florida, where I lived as a high school senior, so we've actually been friends since before R-Day.  It was great to catch up, break bread, and split some beers.  For awhile yesterday, this threatened to be the best part of the afternoon.

After a pit stop at Grant Hall, we started for the stadium just after 11:00.  We once again infiltrated the Cadet Areas, headed past the barracks from my E-1 days, and then hit the stairs by Davis barracks and up past the Cadet Chapel.  The walk that way is steep, but it is not long.  We made it to Michie after at most ten minutes of hard marching, got quickly through security, and spent a few minutes with the girls running like unleashed hellions through Black Knights Alley.  We then hit the stadium early.  I actually caught the march-on for the first time this season, followed by the parachute jump.  Then it was game time.

Pre-game run onto the field.
The first twenty minutes went perfectly to script.  I'm not sure who won the toss, but Army kicked first, forced a couple of quick punts, and then marched right down the field on its second possession.  On a day when the triple-option offense struggled, this was easily the team's best traditional drive.  12 plays, 68 yards, 7:07 off the clock.  This was the only time all day that Army was able to consistently stay ahead of the chains, and by the end of the drive, you could see its effects on Temple's defense.  The final play was an 11-yard run by FB Darnell Woolfolk for the touchdown.

Army's defense came on and forced another quick punt, which the special teams unit blocked.  We opened the second quarter with the Army offense deep in Temple territory.  Bradshaw threw a quick strike to WR Jeff Ejekam, and then Woolfolk took the ball into the end zone again.  Army 14, Temple 0.

With both offense and defense on-point, I turned to the girls and said, "Army's about to win this game by 50."

It was at that point exactly that Temple pulled their collective heads out of their asses.

Temple lost a lot of kids to graduation and the NFL at the end of last year's AAC Championship season, and they also lost their head coach to Baylor.  The transition to new HC Geoff Collins, previously the DC at powerhouse Florida, has not exactly been smooth.  But Collins's team has a lot of talent, and once coach and team get on the same page, I expect that Temple will once again be a power in the AAC.

We started to see some of that yesterday.  The Owls have played something like four different quarterbacks this season, with Collins looking for a guy who can consistently make plays without turning the ball over.  Incumbent QB Logan Marchi threw for 300+ yards in each of his last two starts, but he also threw 2 interceptions last week against UConn, and that's ultimately what cost his team the game.  So Collins went to redshirt junior QB Frank Nutile.  Nutile struggled with accuracy early, but he settled down in the second quarter, and that's when all Hell broke loose.  Once he got in the zone, Nutile stayed there, throwing strikes all over the field, frequently on the run.  On the day, he was 20/29 passing for 290 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.  And that's with something like 5 incompletions in his first two series, when he hadn't quite adjusted to the speed of the game.  Army started with a 14-point lead, but then Nutile's passing set the secondary back on its heels, and the game devolved into a contest of individual athleticism.

Michie Stadium and the Corps.
If you ever watch any of Coach Jeff Monken's mid-week press conferences, you will have heard this story before.  "The other guys are all bigger than us and faster than us, and if we don't play perfectly, they're gonna absolutely destroy us in our own building.  It's just so hard to win here, but our guys fight..."  Blah, blah, blah.

It always sounds like coach-speak to me, but in this particular game, it was the absolute truth.  Army got pressure on Nutile but not enough to generate consistent sacks.  I think they had one all game, and it was a shoestring tackle, though they did force some quick throws.  Mostly, they didn't quite have the horsepower to force the issue.  Worse, with the secondary back to play the pass, Temple started running the ball at will.  RB David Hood didn't do a lot, but Ryquell Armstead found the perimeter consistently, breaking tackles and winning time and again on individual effort, even when Army defenders were (frequently) in the right spots to make the plays.  Armstead finished with 18 carries for 151 yards and 2 touchdowns.  This was nothing fancy; he just played better and faster than anyone else on the field.  He and Frank Nutile ran roughshod over Army's defense for two and a half quarters, especially out in space between the 20s.  Together they converted multiple long 3rd downs, twice with receivers making one-handed (left-handed!) catches out of the backfield to force miraculous conversions.

Temple scored 21 unanswered points, and it really sucked a lot.

The flipside of this was Temple's defense.  They bowed up after that first drive, stopping the triple-option in its tracks.  Army couldn't get consistent push in the middle of the field, and there was just nothing on the perimeter.  As the game wore on, Temple's D started getting penetration at the line of scrimmage and attacking the intermesh, forcing multiple negative plays.  Army's fullbacks ran okay, but the Black Knights could not stay consistently ahead of the chains, and the Owls absolutely smothered Bradshaw.  With that, Army's offense couldn't convert anything longer than, say, 3rd-and-4.  Really, they couldn't even get out of their own end and into four-down territory.  They just kept getting stoned at the line of scrimmage.  Fortunately, Army punted pretty well all day, and they had consistently good kick coverage.

The lone bright spot on Army's offense was the passing game.  Army's coaching staff must have expected to have to pass because they threw early and relatively often--and with great success.  Bradshaw was 3/5 passing for 74 yards with one drop and one pass thrown away to avoid taking a sack.  Really, they did everything you could ask for with the passing game.  On a day when Army's traditional offense just wasn't working, the passing game kept the Black Knights in it, allowing the defense to keep Temple's offense in check just enough to keep the game close.

Down a touchdown with 7:34 to go, Army got the ball at the 20 off a botched short punt that went for a touchback, and Ahmad Bradshaw rallied his team.  He hit SB Kell Walker for 32 yards to get the drive moving, then Andy Davidson carried twice for 4 yards apiece, and then--finally--Woolfolk broke through on a long 44-yard run to tie the game at 21-21.  After a long day of futility, with Temple's linebackers playing close to the line of scrimmage and getting excellent pursuit outside, that long run brought the Black Knights roaring back into the game.

But Temple wasn't done.  It looked like Army's defense was going to force a field goal attempt from the 21 yard line, but then--of course--Armstead got loose one last time, breaking tackles and getting to the perimeter with the kind of speed and athleticism that Army just could not match.

28-21 Temple.  Army was dead and gone.  All that was left was burying the carcass.

QB Kelvin Hopkins entered the game at his own 21 yard line with just over 1:30 to play and exactly one timeout.  Army went to a spread offense.  Hopkins missed his first two passes and then ran 11 yards for a 1st down on 3rd-and-10.  His third pass also fell incomplete, and then Temple got him for a 5-yard sack on 2nd-and-10.  Army called its last timeout at its own 27 yard line with :53 left to play, needing 15 yards for a first down.  Hopkins hit SB John Trainor for a first just past the sticks to the Army 42, and though it required a replay review, this stopped the clock just long enough to move the chains.  That proved critical.  Kell Walker gained 6 on a run then caught a pass for another 6 and got out of bounds for another first down.  Great play.  Two quick passes fell incomplete, but then Hopkins hit Walker again for 21 yards to the Temple 25.  The team hurried to the line, spiked the ball, and the stadium went crazy.  Hopkins hit WR Jermaine Adams for 9 to the Temple 16, and with :06 left to play, we knew we were gonna have exactly one shot at the end zone.

Euphoria!  Pandemonium!  I mean, are you kidding me?!

You show me another school where the sophomore backup quarterback can come in to drive 79 yards in :90 on the clock and one timeout, where they can get the last 75 yards with :53 and no timeouts after a 5 yard sack.

And, oh by the way, they're the last-ranked passing offense in the entire country.

No, this was madness.  It was insanity.  It was a miracle.

Despite a long day in the trenches, I liked Army's chances heading into overtime.  Army's defense had been gashed on superior athleticism all day between the 20s, but they'd been excellent in goal line defense, getting a stop after 1st-and-goal from inside their own 5 yard line that had ultimately ended in a missed field goal.  Army struggled to cover Temple's athletes down the field and in space, but on a shortened field, they'd been terrific.  I figured that if Army's offense could score a touchdown in OT, the defense could prevent one on the shortened overtime field.

It started well enough.  Woolfolk got 6 and then 10 yards for a 1st down, but then he got stuffed on 2nd-and-4, and a pitch to Walker outside got stuffed again for a 4-yard loss.  Army kicked the field goal, and in the stands, I think everyone was hoping just to get to a second overtime.

As they'd done all day, Army's defense bowed up on the short field.  Temple drove to the Army 10, but then Armstead got stuffed, Nutile threw incomplete, and Armstead got stuffed again.  Temple lined up for the short field goal, kicked, made it, and then learned that Coach Monken had just called his lone timeout to ice the kicker.

That was your ball game.

Army wins 31-28 on a missed chipshot field goal.  They win despite giving up more than 500 yards of total offense and putting forth by far their worst rushing performance of the year.

In the end, Temple outgained Army 506 yards to 389 and 24 first downs to 19.  Time of possession was even.  Army rushed for 248 yards on 50 carries and went 8/18 passing for 141 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 miserable interception thrown by QB Luke Langdon to end the 1st half.

Woolfolk's long run gave him 132 yards on 18 carries.  Kell Walker somehow managed to get away with 7 carries for 36 yards and 3 catches for 59.  I don't remember him breaking a long run, but he obviously did at some point.  Bradshaw carried 13 times for 49 yards.  Temple's defense was very good against him.  Jermaine Adams had his best game as a Black Knight with 2 catches for 25 yards and a touchdown.  Army receivers struggled blocking on the perimeter, but they were money catching the ball.

QB Kelvin Hopkins walks away a hero.  His stats weren't super-impressive, but man, he himself certainly was.  He went 5/12 passing for 67 yards and a touchdown, and he ran for a critical first down on 3rd-and-10.  What's more, we finally got to see what he can do with the first team offense.  I don't think I'm alone in being excited for his future.


We're on a bye this week, and frankly, I need the rest.  After the break, we're off to Colorado Springs to play the nation's #3 military academy.

Go Army!  Beat Air Force!!!

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