Army Wins Commanders' Classic Over Air Force in OT
by Erin Summers & Graham Knight
The top two rushing offenses in the country battled through the first half, but in the end it was how both of these schools utilized their passing game that was the difference.
It was the inaugural Commander's Classic: Army and Air Force, facing off for the first time on a neutral site since 1965 -- and this game had it all.
"It's usually not a great formula for us to win," Army's Head Coach Jeff Monken said, "because we are a running football team and we try to control the clock and keep it away from the other team. But you know, they were the same way. They went to the air and had a lot of success throwing it. And I think it's just a credit to both defense coordinators and both teams, both defenses doing a good job of stopping the run."
The tug of war started as soon as the coin was flipped, with Army and Air Force battling for an advantage on the ground. Air Force came into the game leading the nation in rushing yards, Army right behind.
However, both defenses came ready, neither side passing the century mark on offense through the first half of play, neither side able to get on the board, and they went into the break in a scoreless tie.
"They're a great defense: fast, big up front," Army junior quarterback Tyhier Tyler said, "So, they know us, we know them. So we had to make plays otherwise."
The Black Knights adjusted out of the half, driving down the field for 64 yards, and a nine-yard rushing touchdown from Tyler, to finally get some points on the board as Army took the 7-0 lead.
That’s when Air Force went to the air.
"They were definitely keen on the run and our passing game kind of opened up in the second half," noted Falcons' star running back Brad Roberts.
The Falcons put together a 49-yard drive, including a 36-yard pass from Haaziq Daniels to Brandon Lewis. But the drive stalled and Air Force had to settle for a Matthew Depore field goal to make it 7-3, Army still in the lead, with six minutes to go in the third.
Air Force then stopped Army on downs and capped a 7-play, 66-yard drive with a Daniels-to-Dane Kinamon 4-yard touchdown pass. The Falcons converted on the two-point attempt to put them within three, at 14-11.
Then, as the seconds ticked down, Air Force picked up those three points. With just 23 seconds to go, following a 15-play, 78-yard drive, Dapore hit a 30-yard field goal to tie the game.
The Falcons defense then held strong, coming up with a huge sack to cap a scoreless quarter by the Black Knights. For the first time in the history of the rivalry, the Air Force-Army game headed into overtime.
"Golly, you just keep battlin’," Air Force Head Coach Troy Calhoun said. "You know, you do look, the two big pass plays, you know that they hit, that were both in the 3rd quarter. And then we hit a couple to come back down the stretch of the 4th quarter, too."
The overtime period witnessed what may be the most fortuitous fumble in the history of Army football. On third down from the 6-yard line Anderson sprinted toward the end zone, but fumbled the ball at the goal line. Lineman Jordan Law scooped up the ball in the end zone for the touchdown and the Black Knights were up by 7.
Air Force then got the ball and drove down to the Army six. But on fourth down, it was the Black Knights' defense who stepped up. Cornerback Jabari Moore tipped away Daniel's final pass attempt in the endzone, and preserved Army's Commanders’ Classic win.
"It was a great feeling," Moore said, "I thought last year when we won the CIC, it was going to be one of the biggest moments of our lives, and this year it just builds upon that. I mean, it is great, especially to get that win for the seniors."
And just like that, the battle was over: Army won it 21-14 in overtime.
The nation's top two rushing teams threw for a combined 440 yards and rushed for only 283.
"Both teams just gutted it out," Monken said, "and, fortunately, we made one more play when it counted there at the end."
"Obviously we wanted a different final score," said Calhoun on the other side of the stadium, "and we didn’t make enough plays. And to their credit, they did make one more play. And to do it, you have to make more plays than the opponent."
The loss runs even deeper for the Falcons senior class that was never able to take home the CIC.
Frankly, heartbreak," said Air Force senior defensive back Tre Bugg, III. "You come here and that’s the first thing they tell you about, is the CIC, and beating the other two service academies. And I have now, not won it once. So, definitely heartbreaking."
With the victory, Army earns the first ever Commanders' Classic Trophy, and the CIC Trophy will head back to West Point, where the Black Knights will await a match-up with Navy on December 11 to determine who will be this year's Commander In Chief's Trophy winner.
edited for web by Joe Harman