Air Force-Army, As It Happened

The bottom line: A handful of huge breakdowns and untimely turnovers – from a team that had been a lot better in the turnover department compared to 2009 – proved to be Army's undoing. Air Force was definitely the better team over the final three quarters, but with better situational execution, this could have been a different story.

13:42 left, first quarter: That's exactly how Army wants to run its triple-option; that's also how Air Force wants to run its triple-option (heck, it's how Navy or any other triple-option team wants to operate). Set up third-and-short and grind the clock while, in the words of Hank Stram, "matriculating the ball down the field."

11:18: Pure gold for the Black Knights. Any third-and-long passing conversion is an unexpected bonus today. Neither team can rely on moving the sticks on 3rd-and-double-digit yards.

9:00: The ball could have been snapped by the center when Air Force jumped in the end zone. Maybe Rich Ellerson's drawing up a ball play. It's part of Army's personality to go for it on fourth down. I'd expect (and would approve of) an attempt to go for it.

8:55: Okay, Ellerson throws the change-up and kicks the field goal with Alex Carlton. Three points is good, but seven points will generally be needed to win this high-stakes game. It's very early, however, and the other point is that it's too early in the game to be overly critical of a decision like that. Nothing all that wrong with taking points if they're on the table. We'll see how this game unfolds.

8:39: I don't care if you're the widest, slowest defensive lineman on the field – there is NO EXCUSE for dropping a pop fly like that, Stephen Anderson. None.

7:49: Anderson responds exactly the way you'd want a young man to respond – he delivers a mighty stick and thwarts a pass attempt to send on the Air Force punting team. Army's riding the wave early, and to Ellerson's credit, the field goal sustained that momentum.

4:50: The good news: Army is clearly outplaying Air Force. The bad news: A million other football games throughout the annals of human history have been lost by kicking field goals in the first quarter. Bravo to Alex Carlton, but the new-look Trent Steelman and the rest of the Brave Old Army Team Offense need to finish. Not an original or mind-blowing Sherlock Holmes-style observation, of course, but the only necessary observation so far. Now, if Army's defense continues to thrive and it's 15-0 at halftime on the strength of five Carlton field goals, we might change our opinion.

4:13: On cue, Asher Clark of Air Force rips off a nice gain and the Falcons seem to be getting their teeth into this tilt on the offensive side of the ball. Now the battle begins in earnest.

2:59: The Falcons gashed the right side of Army's line on that Nathan Walker burst.

2:22: Air Force has been a mistake-prone team all season long. The Falcons give the Black Knights a gift at the wrong time (or the right time if you're Rich Ellerson).

1:04: Are you kidding me? That's bad Army defense on the long gain by Walker, but it looked as though the Air Force ballcarrier was down at the 11 before skidding to the 10. That's a brutal spot, and the play should be reviewed, especially since there are CBS College Sports cameras on hand at Michie Stadium. There is no excuse for not reviewing any play on which there's doubt about the outcome.

0:15: Oh, my. Another turnover Air Force offered Army cannot be claimed.

0:15: Wait a minute – WHY was that play reviewed? What could possibly be reviewed on that play? Ridiculous! The PREVIOUS play is the one that needed to be reviewed. Wow. Just awful officiating and replay-booth coordination.
End of First Quarter Score: Army 6, Air Force 0.

14:24 left, second quarter: And now, ladies and gentlemen, we can offer a definitively negative verdict on those field goals (though not the Ellerson decision on the first one; that's an okay decision, just not the decision I personally would have made).

12:41: Fabulous body lean on that run by Jonathan Crucitti. Steelman's pitch was alarmingly deep, putting Crucitti seven yards behind the line of scrimmage, but the freshman running back extended his frame past the marker on third-and-one. Impressive.

10:55: The momentum is worn entirely by the visitors with the special Thunderbird outfits. Steelman's not producing plays in the passing game, but of course, Army doesn't want to be put in predictable passing situations.

10:00: Red-alert, defcon 5, air-raid-level danger for Army. Jefferson uncorks a lengthy run and then busts out an even longer pass, a 53-yard pitch-and-run scoring strike to Jonathan Warzeka, and now this is completely Air Force's game to lose. Not only must Army be better; the Black Knights and Ellerson have to play and coach this game outside the box. Conventional wisdom (and field goals on fourth-and-one) are off the board until further notice. Going for it on fourth-and-one on your own 29 now has to be part of the equation. Air Force won't lose unless the Black Knights force turnovers at some point.

8:29: It's never ideal to use up all three timeouts in the first 21-plus minutes of a half, but that last timeout produced a great third-and-six conversion from Steelman, a play which was absolutely essential for the Black Knights. It needs to lead to six points, though.

7:31: Steelman telegraphed the throw, but if you do make your intentions known, you have to zip the ball to the receiver.

7:22: LIKE THAT! THERE'S HOW YOU ZING A BALL TO THE BOUNDARY!.

6:53: And now, Army – thanks to a few clutch plays by Steelman, is able to set up Jared Hassin up the middle for 18.

6:17: Jared Hassin, Jacob Bohn. Jacob Bohn, Jared Hassin. Gauntlet – thrown down. Competitive parity – restored. Air Force surge – OVER! The Black Knights answer the bell with dynamism and distinction. It was regrettable to not maximize a first quarter of momentum, but it's equally heartening to swing the game back to a neutral position after the Falcons flexed their muscles.

4:59: Jefferson got crushed by Donald Dixon. Clean hit, too. Jefferson's health is obviously something to keep an eye on.

4:21: A terrible breakdown to not get containment against Warzeka on the left edge. Given the fact that Air Force backup quarterback Connor Dietz is not going to keep the ball, it's just not acceptable for one of Air Force's main playmakers to get free in open space like that.

2:35: I would expect Air Force to go for the first down with one yard to go.

2:06: WOW! Stephen Anderson continues to compensate for the dropped pick. As analyst Jason Sehorn said, Anderson read the snap count and busted through the line. Dietz also showed his inexperience by allowing the play clock to run down, which gave Anderson the ability to read the play. If Dietz initiated the play earlier, perhaps Army wouldn't have come up with that mammoth defensive stand. Air Force gets the ball to start the second half, so Army needs to do something with the ball here.

1:59: Great call, even though the pass was incomplete. Army needs to try to score here.

0:57: The 2009 version of Trent Steelman shows up at the worst possible time. Oh, lordy. Amazing that Steelman hadn't thrown a single interception through the first two months of the season. That's called "exquisite agony" in this business we call sportswriting.

0:57: Jefferson is back in at quarterback for Air Force.

0:18: Two inexcusable missed tackles. Instead of having third-and-goal at the 13, Air Force will have third-and-goal from the 2.

0:18: Air Force had been going right, right, right, right, with triple-option-style plays. There's an old-fashioned counter to the left side, and Army wasn't expecting it. Brilliant play call from the Air Force staff, and Army has just squandered the momentum it gained. Don't blame Army's playcalling or strategy at the end of the first half; the Black Knights needed to make an attempt to score since Air Force was going to get the ball to start the second half. Steelman simply picked the wrong time to throw his first interception of 2010.

Halftime Score: Air Force 21, Army 13.

13:12 left, third quarter: Simply stated, one cannot overstate the importance of that defensive stop for Army.

9:02: Steelman continues to lock his eyes onto one primary receiver on one side of the field. He has to survey the defense more. Air Force filled the passing lane.

8:47: What in the Sam Hill was Air Force's Reggie Rembert thinking? At any rate, Falcon ball at the 2.

7:03: Army, want to win this game? Get this third-down stop inside the Air Force 20.

6:23: A.J. Mackey wants to win this game for Army.

5:52: That punt was waiting to be returned for a long gain, and Josh Jackson took five seconds playing patty-cake with the pigskin. A huge missed opportunity to have a drive start inside the Air Force 30-yard line. Can the Black Knights make that special-teams stumble irrelevant? (At least it wasn't an outright turnover, but it felt like a 25-yard penalty.)

4:30: Crucitti with a SPECTACULAR catch – maximum extension and reach to pull down a ball that Steelman was able to throw over the linebacker and into a seam. That's the kind of high-level, beyond-the-norm play Army will need to replicate at least a few more times in order to win this contest.

3:33: Air Force's defensive line is beginning to win battles on a regular basis.

2:29: With the deficit at eight points – meaning that a 2-point conversion is needed to tie – a field goal owns a lot more value here than it would if Army had trailed by only seven points. Plus, it's fourth-and-six, not fourth-and-three. I'm okay with a field goal.

2:22: Especially if Carlton shows ONIONS like that and brings the Black Knights within five points.

0:44: Yet, for all of Alex Carlton's excellence, Air Force is posting sevens and not threes. Even more specifically, Air Force has a big-play downfield passing game and Army simply doesn't. That's the foremost difference in today's tilt.

0:01: Well, two touchdowns and a shutout of Air Force all the while. Quite the gut-check coming up for the Brave Old Army Team.

End of Third Quarter Score: Air Force 28, Army 16

14:54 left, fourth quarter: A dropped first-down-bearing pass on third-and-nine is not the way the fourth quarter was supposed to begin.

12:52: A tremendous exchange for the Black Knights – not just the quick three-and-out forced by the defense, but an effective punt return from a chastened Josh Jackson. Seven points are non-negotiable here.

12:39: Um, seven points for ARMY, not AIR FORCE. The Commander-In-Chief's Trophy is moving closer to Colorado Springs for the first time in eight years.

9:49: That was a mighty quick touchdown. Army still has an outside chance. No touchdown on that drive would have been curtains. Somewhat ironic that Steelman uncorks some big plays only after falling behind by 19 points.

6:27: That's probably all she wrote.

1:00: The bottom line: A handful of huge breakdowns and untimely turnovers – from a team that had been a lot better in the turnover department compared to 2009 – proved to be Army's undoing. Air Force was definitely the better team over the final three quarters, but with better situational execution, this could have been a different story. It's proof that Army still hasn't graduated to a higher level. At any rate, on to Kent State, the team the Black Knights absolutely must beat if they expect to win six games and punch their ticket to a bowl game this season. Not time to waste lamenting this missed opportunity on home soil.

Final Score: Air Force 42, Army 22.

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