If Charles Dickens were covering Saturday's showdown between Army and Air Force, the legendary English writer's novel may have been called the "Tale of Two Halves" versus Two Cites.
From the very outset of game, when the Black Knights took the game's opening series and march down the field 81 yards on 12 plays ... it could not have been drawn up any better on paper.
Army used an assortment of backs, without throwing one single pass, as the drive was lead by slotback Raymond Maples who compiled 29 yards on the ground, while fullbacks Jared Hassin and Larry Dixon added 28 and 14 yards respectively.
The drive was ended with quarterback Max Jenkins sneaking in from one yard out and giving Army the early 7-0 lead.
Coming into the game, there was little concern about the nation's leading rushing team moving the ball against the Falcons, but question was could the defense at least slow down the Air Force offense lead by senior quarterback, Tim Jefferson.
And surely enough, Army's swarming defense did just that, as Falcons saw their five possessions of the first half go ... Punt, Fumble, Punt, Punt and Fumble.
The Black Knights' defense held Air Force to zero first downs, six yards rushing and 25 yards in the first half, as several players stepped up big time.
On Air Force's first possession and 3rd & 10 at their own 28 yard line, defensive end Zach Watts, who was very active throughout the day, made an impressive and timely sack that forces the Falcons to punt.
Although Army was able to convert on the next series, it was linebacker Steve Erzinger's time to get into the act, as the senior captain recovered Jefferson's fumble on Air Force's 19 yard line.
Two plays later, Army takes a 14-0 lead as the first quarter concludes, and surely they were the dominate team at this point in the contest.
But it did not stop there, because on the Falcon's ensuing possession, the Army "D" makes a stand, as big plays from Watts once again, along with linebacker Geoffrey Bacon put the ball back into the hands of the offense.
With the ball on the Air Force 44 yard line, it becomes the Maples, Hassin, Dixon show once again, along with slotback Malcolm Brown who decides to get into the act.
THE TIDE TURNS
With 7:14 remaining in the first half and the ball now 1st & goal from on the 7 yard line it appeared that the Black Knights would easily be adding 7 more points to the 14-0 lead.
Think again ...
Play #1 - Hassin bangs his way up the middle for 6 yards to the 1 yard line
Play #2 - Jenkins fumbles the ball, but was able to make the recover on the two yard line.
Play #3 - Maples bulls to the 1 yard line.
Play #4 - Jenkins sneaks it in from 1 yard out, for an Army 20-0 lead. OR DOES HE & OR IS IT?
The official on the field ruled that the ball did not break the plane, but the was eventually reviewed by the officiating staff in the box. Unfortunately and contrary to what was an obvious touchdown for the Black Knight, the call on the field stood.
To Army's credit, in what could have been a deal breaker, the defense once again showed up. On 1st & 10 at the Falcons' 28 yard line, Mike Dewitt has the ball stripped and recovered by Clayton Keller, as the Black Knights' offense was back in business with the hope of building on their lead with the 1st half coming to an end.
On 2nd and 10 from the 18 yard line of the Falcons and .33 remaining, seldom used slotback Scott Williams break for what appears to be a path to paydirt, only to have the stripped from his arm by defensive back Josh Hall and bounce of the end zone for a touchback.
If there was every a time that a team who had a two touchdown lead and the defense was pitching a shutdown and lockdown, but yet go into the locker at halftime more emotionally down then their opponent .... it had to be the Black Knights.
THE 2ND HALF
Contrary to the 1st half, where Army rushed for 286 yards versus 56 for Air Force, along with 20:24 T.O.P. compared to 9:36 for the Falcons ... the 2nd half was the complete opposite.
On the Falcons first five possessions of the 2nd half, they went; FG, TD, FG, TD, FG & Punt which netted them 24 points. Whereby the Black Knights went; Punt, Fumble, Fumble, Fumble, Punt & INT, resulting in zero points on the scoreboard.
What worked in the 1st half for the Black Knights' offense, was effectively shut down by the Falcons defense in the 3rd & 4th quarters.
The challenge for Army offensively was the inability to adjust to Air Force's adjustments, which showed a determination to close down the center to tackle runs, and dare the Black Knights to work the perimeter.
What may appears elementary when running the triple option offense, is that you must have options from your slots, fullback and quarterback. And in the 2nd half the Falcons were willing to have the Black Knights prove that quarterback Max Jenkins was a legitimate option, who could run and/or pitch.
However, with an offense that became stagnant in the second half and a defense that seem to be just one step behind, the Falcons were able to do just enough to put their signature on the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for the second straight year.
Final Score: Air Force 24 - Army 14
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