No Need for a Knee

There was a mini controversy at the end of Army's victory over the Fordham Rams. Jeff Monken surprised not only the Fordham defense but his own fan base with his rather questionable play call at the end of the fourth quarter.

Fordham quarterback Mike Nebrich had just completed a wild touchdown pass. His pass bounce off wide receiver Sam Ajala hands and deflected right to tight end Ada Malkiewicz who ran it in for a 51-yard touchdown reception. The score narrowed Army's lead to 42-31 with 15 seconds remaining in the game. As expected the Rams did an on-sides kick but it was recovered by Black Knights tight end Kelvin White at the Fordham 44-yard line with 13 seconds left in the game. Angel Santiago led the Army offense on to the field.

The Black Knights offense had scored touchdowns on all four of its previous possessions in the second half to take control of the game. Army didn't line up in the customary victory formation to take a knee and end the game. Since it was Senior day fans thought maybe the staff was going to give the senior running backs one last carry at Michie Stadium. Instead everyone was shocked when Angel faked the pitch to Baggett going in motion and drop back to throw the ball instead. Santiago hit wide open tight end Kelvin White in stride at the 18-yard line. White stumbled at the 15-yard or he would have scored. White's stumble over the turf monster enable Fordham's backup cornerback Marcus Fulmore, a local NJ product who was a three time all-State selection, to run him down and tackle him at the 1-yard line. Army called a time out with two second left. There was an audible buzz in the crowd among the cheers.

The Black Knights, after huddling on the sidelines around Monken, came out in the customary end of the game victory formation. Not surprisingly the Fordham defensive line played goal defense and fired off the ball not taking anything for granted. There was some pushing but thankfully it went no further. Monken and Fordham coach Joe Morehead exchanged post-game handshakes without any malice. Monken hugged Caleb Ham a Fordham freshman defensive back he knew and recruited from Georgia. The Black Knights lined up for the Alma mater and Fordham respectfully remained on the field.

The question remained why did Monken throw the ball in that spot? Some speculated that he wanted to get quarterback Angel Santiago a touchdown pass after Brent Davis, the offensive coordinator, had seen fit to have Army's talented senior backfield of Larry Dixon, Terry Baggett and Raymond Maples all score touchdowns on Senior Day. The subject game up in the post-game press conference. Monken said “They were trying to win the game and so they were playing it all the way to the end so we were going to play all the way to the end.” When pressed on why not take a knee, Monken replied, he took a knee. When asked why not earlier, Monken replied tersely “I am competitive.” This has led to divergent opinions of the pass play call. Some thought Monken was right to channel his inner John Heisman, the Georgia Tech head coach who pioneered running up the score in 1916, when his Yellow Jackets crushed Cumberland College 222-0. They felt it showed Monken's toughness and competitive fire which had been missing under the rather stoic California leadership of Rich Ellerson. Some blamed the on-sides kick but that is just standard operating procedure for a team trailing late in the game. Others, like myself, initially felt it was a lame move and if nothing else it was showing up a Fordham Ram team that had competed and played hard.

The inside scoop is that the genesis of the pass play call happened during the pregame. Army was celebrating its Senior Day and the senior’s last home game at Michie Stadium. Monken stated during the post-game news conference that, "Senior day is a big day because it is the last time the guys can be here and be part of this environment as an Army football player. Not so much that it is the last game at home. I think it is the combination of the four years they have been here and the opportunity to be here to represent our team and our program and this institution one more time at this great stadium.” West Point honors these players before the start of the game. Army returned to the locker room with the exception of the seniors who remained on Blaik field for the planned pregame ceremony. The plan was for Fordham to also leave the field and return to the locker room. The Rams football staff was asked a few times to clear the field but they refused at least twice. Instead of honoring the Army seniors at midfield, the ceremony was held near the Army sideline with the Rams practicing behind them. Monken did a slow burn over this issue. Jeff Monken is as intense and as fiery as any coach you will ever meet. He didn't like the lack of respect that was being shown to his team and its senior class. Monken was annoyed by this move and, from what I was told, it’s the reason he called the pass play at the end of the game.

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