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Home News Army edges Air Force, 17-14

Army edges Air Force, 17-14

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For Army, it's one down, one to go.

The Black Knights of West Point play an entire season of football like every other college football team, but twice a year the motivation to win rises to a higher level. The contests with Air Force and Navy are the games that matter most to the cadets. Those struggles -- and the Air Force-Navy game -- comprise the three games that determine which academy gets possession of the Commander-In-Chief's (CIC) Trophy, a massive silver and black award that symbolizes football excellence among the military community.

On Saturday, Army (7-2) needed all the emotion it could summon to defeat visiting Air Force 17-14 before a sellout crowd of 38,502 at West Point's Michie Stadium. With the win, Army will retain the CIC Trophy for 2019 since even if the Black Knights were to lose to Navy in that annual struggle on December 8, each of the three academies would have one victory. Air Force beat Navy 35-7 on Oct. 6.

Under the rules for the guardianship of the trophy, in the event of a three-way tie, the school which had possession of the trophy the previous year gets to retain the trophy.

Army beat both Air Force and Navy in 2017. But make no mistake -- the Black Knights want nothing less than a dominating win against struggling Navy in their game next month in Philadelphia.

"It's a hated, heated rivalry," said Army head coach Jeff Monken. "There's going to be a lot of emotion in these games. It was quite a battle and I was really proud of our team just finding a way to win. They hit some throws in the second half and made it a ball game. Stopping them on fourth down and then converting our own fourth down play on the final play of the game kind of epitomizes the mental toughness of our team."

While some classic triple-option runs mixed with some timely passes to give Army the lead, it was the Black Knights' tough and determined defense that sealed the win. Trailing 17-14 with 3:02 left, Air Force got a final chance to try to win. Falcons quarterback D.J. Hammond III, a sophomore who had come on in relief to start the second half after Isaiah Sanders had failed to gain any points for the visitors in the first 30 minutes, started to move his team down field. A 19-yard completion to Geraud Sanders brought Air Force to the Army 47.

Cole Fagan rushed for 4 yards and Joe Saucier followed with a run for 5, putting Air Force on the Army 38 in a third-and-1 situation. On the next play, Army linebacker Cole Christiansen, who came into the game tied with fellow linebacker James Nachtigal for the team lead in tackles with 48, broke through the line and dropped Air Force fullback Kadin Remsberg for a 2-yard loss. Now in a fourth-and-3 situation with just 1:17 on the clock, Hammond darted right and decided to keep the ball as he turned to move forward. He was met by Christiansen and Nachtigal, who stopped the Falcons signal caller for no gain. Army took over on downs and four rushes later -- including a Hopkins run on fourth-and-1 that let Army keep possession -- the clock ran out, the cannons were fired and Army had its seventh win of the year.

"They played a little bit differently in the second half and we struggled at times," Christiansen said. "But we just got it done."

Army, which leads the nation with a staggering 40:02 average time of possession through its first eight games, took the opening kickoff and quarterback Kelvin Hopkins orchestrated a 21-play, 75-yard drive that overcame a pair of illegal blocking penalties and an unsportsmanlike conduct infraction. Fullback Darnell Woolfolk's 1-yard TD run put Army up 7-0.

"The biggest thing I'll take from my time here is grinding out at practice and meeting with all these guys," Woolfolk said. "I think we have an amazing group of people around this team. Honestly, I feel truly blessed to have them in my life."

That drive lasted 13:03 and was the fourth drive of 10 minutes or more this year for the Black Knights. All other Football Bowl Championship Series teams have combined for just six drives lasting at least 10 minutes.

The teams traded punts on the next three possessions. Army followed with an 11-play, 89-yard drive that ended with Woolfolk, who finished with a game-high 117 rushing yards and logged his first 100-yard game of the year, blasting ahead six yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 halftime lead.

Army defensive back Mike Reynolds added a crucial interception on the Army 3 in the second quarter to help keep the Falcons off the board; he almost duplicated the feat in the third quarter, but settled for knocking the ball to the ground.

Air Force made adjustments at halftime and the Falcons defense began to play tighter on the line, resulting in shorter gains by Army. With Hammond calling the plays on offense for Air Force, the visitors were able convert their third possession into points, thanks in no small part to the aggressive play of their best defender, Jeremy Fejedelem. The junior free safety swept through a hole as Army punter Nick Schrage tried to launch a punt from inside his own 20 and Fejedelem got a hand on the ball, setting Air Force up at the Army 34.

Calling eight runs and a pass (complete for a 5-yard gain to Remsberg), Hammond completed the march by running the ball one yard into the end zone.

Army responded with a 13-play drive that left Monken with a challenge: should Army attempt a field goal or try for the first down in a fourth-and-3 situation on the Air Force 13? Monken chose to go for the field goal and John Abercrombie's kick made it 17-6.

On the ensuing drive, Joseph Saucier scored on a 6-yard run, then took a pitch from Hammond for the two-point conversion to make it 17-14.

Army returns to action next Saturday at noon at Michie Stadium to host Lafayette. Air Force hosts New Mexico in Colorado Springs at 3:30 pm (all times Eastern).

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