At numerous points throughout the season, Army coach Rich Ellerson has issued a mantra of taking the season one game at a time.
Often times approaching it in the very college like mindset of having 12 different exams.
Well, using that logic, today's exam was critical.
And now that the Black Knights failed to pass the Tulane exam, Ellerson and his staff will have to reach deep down inside their magic bag to re-engerigize his team as they will start preparing for Vanderbilt out of the SEC next Saturday.
DE JA VU
As has become their trademark, the Black Knights' offense came out of the gate with an early, but this time it was benefited by the play of the special team. After Tulane received the opening kick off and force to punt on a three and out series, reserve defensive end Dean Lisante blocked Ross Thevenot's punt and it was recovered by Chris Swain on the Tulane 10 yard line.
Three yards, ten plays and 1:01 minute later, quarterback Trent Steelman scored on a quarterback sneak and Army was on the scoreboard.
It marked the 4th time in five times that Army had scored on their opening drive
all of which were touchdowns.
It was obvious from the beginning, that the Army defense had an attitude, but the question would be, could they maintain it.
On Tulane's next series, the Black Swarm did just that, lead by a solid hit by middle linebacker Stephan Anderson and a sack by Steve Erzinger.
With 8:20 remaining in the 1st quarter, the Black Knights went on a 8 play, 24 yard drive that stalled at the Tulane 20 yard line. Entered Alex Carlton, who hit it from 37 yards out.
However, the Green Wave had the combination of sophomore quarterback Joe Kemp and talented wide receiver Jeremy Williams, who can change a game with one play. And the Tulane duo came out slinging on Tulane's next series, which was ignited by Williams 45 yard kick return. After several defensive stops, Kemp found a wide open Williams for 23 yards, that resulted in a 1st & goal at the 9 yard line for the Green Wave.
On 2nd & 15, cornerback Antuan Aaron bites on a Williams down & up move and poor support from free safety Donovan Travis that resulted in a one foot down in the corner catch by the talented receiver over the Army defenders.
Throughout this contest, the combination of Kemp and Williams, seasoned with a little bit of running back Andre Anderson, are the forces that were driving the Green Wave offense.
It became apparent from this point forward, that if the Black Knights were to prevail, the defense would have to stop this trio and the offense would have to stop stopping itself.
On Army's next series, it appeared that the offense would do just that, but after accumulated three first downs and the ball on the Tulane 16 yard line, Steelman picks the worst time to throw his first career interception. On 3rd & 6, Steelman's pass attempt to Ali Villanueva and picked off by cornerback Charles Harris. Once again, the offense takes time off the clock, but net scoreboard result is zero.
The first half closes out with both defenses holding serve and the teams go into the locker with with Army maintaining a slight 3 point lead.
However, as impressive as Williams' halftime numbers were, they were just a reflection of things to come for the Black Knights. The talented performer had already registered 102 receiving yards on 5 catches, along with two kickoff returns for a total of 62 yards.
The challenge for Army, even with their halftime lead, is that they have been unable to jumpstart themselves after coming out in the 3rd quarter of previous games. After receiving the 3rd quarter kickoff, the offense stayed true to form and where three and out.
Conversely, the Green Wave offense moves things into 5th gear and a series of Anderson carries (6, 16 & 11 yards) had the Army defense on it's heals for the first time in the game. To their credit, the defense holds and Tulane place kicker, Ross Thevenot misses a 30 yard field goal.
Sandwiched between two offensive series, the Army defense holds its own against Tulane as the 3rd quarter was winding down. The first series was with 7:55 remaining in the 3rd and Coach Ellerson searching for offensive answers, whereby on Army's next series, freshman slotback Malcolm Brown makes his debut. However, the net result is a missed pass by a wide open Patrick Mealy and the 2nd series concluded with an Army punt from their own 48 yard line.
Well as misfortune would have it, Tulane runs into punter Jonathan Bulls and Army retains the ball on the Green Wave's 33 yard line, with 2:30 remaining in the 3rd.
After five plays, the 3rd quarter ends, and Army had the ball 4th & 3, as Alex Carlton hits his 2nd field goal of the day and with 14:32 they took at 13-7 lead.
Clearly a 6 point lead does not provide any level of comfort and the Army defense was called upon again to make a stop. And stop they did
with Tulane starting from their own 38 yard line, defensive end makes the play and recovers the Tulane fumble. Added to timely moment was a personal foul penalty against Tulane, which gave the ball 1st & 10 for Army at the Green Wave's 18 yard line.
However, a holding call and Steelman fumble (Army recovers), and a 1 yard gain by Mealy, and the Black Kngihts can't take advantage and have to settle for a Carlton 36 yard field goal.
But the Williams show prevailed again for Tulane, as Army following kick off is short, and probably meant to keep the ball out of Williams' hands as the Green Wave start with great field position at their own 39 yard line (11:11).
With a series of plays, that are lead by Williams 13 yard stomp on a reverse and Kemp's strike to a wide open Williams, who surprisely is released in coverage by McNary
takes the ball to the Army 1 yard line. This 7 play and 61 yards drive, saw an eventual 3rd & goal was capped off by an Anderson 1 yard plunge.
With 8:58 remaining, the general feeling is that Army can move the ball on the Tulane defense, but they continued to shoot themselves in the foot with untimely penalties or not finishing the plays off.
With the momentum now on the side of Tulane, a false start by Malcolm Brown and dropped punt attempt by Bulls, that resulted the Army punter taking off and coming up short of the 1st down on 4th & 8.
Bulls' mishap gave the Green Wave great field position on their own 37 yard line and 5:26 to go in the contest.
After registering a first down and the ball at midfield, the Army defense would need to not only keep Tulane out of the end zone, but out of field goal position.
On 2nd & 6 at the Army 46 yard line, Anderson breaks through several Army tackles and jaunts for 42 yards to the Black Knights' 4 yard line. The Army defense actually does hold the Green Wave from the end zone, but they were able to hit a 23 yard field goal and take 3:06 off the clock and leaving only 2:20 for Army to change the final score.
Damion Hunter, who had been ineffective on special teams this season, breaks off a 46 yard return that brings the 26,076 fans to their feet and gives Army the ball with on their own 41 yard line
. With 2:13 on the clock.
"I knew I had to make a big play," shared Hunter after the game. "Throughout the game, the blocks were there. I have to give credit to the blockers. I knew I had to make a play and put the ball in touchdown or field goal position. I hit the hole and ran as fast as I could."
And with Hunter's mission accomplished, there would still be some unfinished business, as the Army offense needed to now rescue the defense.
Two passes from Steelman to Hunter brought the ball to the Tulane 34 yard line, with 1:40 remaining and the clock running.
With .45 remaining, Steelman runs a sneak to the middle of the field to set-up a 37 yard field goal attempt by Alex Carlton.
As silence hit Michie Stadium, with the anticipation that once again there would be pandemonium as Army pulls out another final play win over Tulane and take their record to 3-2.
Unfortunately, Carlton, who had been 3 for 3 up until his final effort, saw his kick which was long enough
veer to the right, as you could feel the wind taken out of the sails of the Army players, coaches and fans.
"It was a little right of center, probably right on the right upright," shared Carlton during the post-game press conference. "I would prefer the left hash, but anywhere, it's my job to put the ball through the uprights. I pushed it a little bit and kicked it straight and it went right."
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