Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

It took Army just over 3 hours to abruptly change the trajectory of a season

A 180-degree turn never felt so good... or poetically sweet. The pain of the past can never be eliminated, but it can be transformed into something which inspires. Bad things can happen to good people -- no one wishes that. All one can do when confronted with pain is to turn it into something meaningful -- motivation, determination, inspiration. Army did just that on a return trip to the Carolinas.

Transformation.

It's a powerful word, a far more powerful idea, a still more potent reality when achieved and fully experienced.

Transformation. 

It's not just what Optimus Prime or Megatron do on movie screens; it's this daring, radical, essential leap from one side of a chasm to the other. It's the realization one makes after walking over the hot coals of any severe life challenge, the realization often being: "Hey, I went through the worst life has to offer, and I'm not only still intact, but I can do great things!"

That's the Army football team after a cathartic, cleansing conquest of Wake Forest on Saturday in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. On multiple levels -- immediate and metaphorical -- West Point found its true north in 2016, in what is clearly coach Jeff Monken's biggest victory to date as Army's head coach.

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The first and most immediate transformation Army made was that it won the turnover battle. Yes, Army had no place to go but up after the turnover-fest against North Texas, but that turnover differential wasn't remotely close. For the Black Knights to score an outright win in this part of the competition (3 takeaways, 2 giveaways) marked the change in direction the visitors badly needed. 

Another transformation central to this Army win was the fourth quarter. The Black Knights ran out of steam against Buffalo. They ran out of time against Duke. They ran out of the ability to execute their game plan against North Texas, due to the squeeze of the scoreboard. Army fourth quarters had taken a downturn from the season opener against Temple. Army's one win since September 17 came against an FCS school (Lafayette), meaning that the Black Knights' last win against an FBS team before Saturday was the UTEP runaway, and in that game, the fourth quarter didn't matter. Not since the Rice game on September 10 (in which Army led by a comfortable yet modest two-score margin of 28-14 entering the fourth) did the Black Knights handle the game's final 15 minutes with distinction in a moment of relative importance. 

In the previous two years of the Monken era, Army found it hard to get stronger as a game went on. One of Army's more damaging tendencies in the first two years of Monken's tenure was (note the past tense) the eternally frustrating habit of giving up a touchdown right after scoring one in a close game. Consolidating momentum has proved to be elusive for this team.

Saturday against Wake, that did not happen. 

The defense kept a lid on the big plays Wake Forest has used this season to change its own fortunes and move within one win of the very same bowl eligibility which is now a more realistic prospect for Army. The Black Knights didn't allow the Demon Deacons to bust off the one big play which hounded Monken's men a week earlier against North Texas. This was the true example of a team winning more snaps over the course of a game and truly being able to say it outplayed the opposition. No longer did Army have to live with the sting of the achingly complicated lamentation, "Except for 7 to 10 really bad plays, we were the better team." This time, the visitors truly were better.

What's more is that they were better than Wake in a year when Wake had actually improved. The Deacs slipped through Army's fingers the previous two years, but in those seasons, Wake Forest won only two other games on its schedule and finished 3-9. This Wake team, thanks to hope-providing wins over Duke and Indiana, has taken on a new identity. Army gets bonus points not for beating the Deacs, but for doing so when Wake had every reason to feel like (and play like) the more self-assured team on Saturday.

The last transformation to note is poignant and poetic, but it certainly deserves to be included in this story of West Point delight.

Roughly a month ago, Army made a trek to the Carolinas to play Duke. As everyone remembers, that game was swallowed up by Hurricane Matthew. It was a day when football didn't have to be played (or at least, not until later that night when weather might have calmed down to an extent). The lingering takeaway from that game was that nothing could be taken away from it. The contest, such as it was, offered no true measurement of football acumen. The spectacle was defined by survival, not by tactics or skill in the soggy slop.

How satisfying it is that on a clear and sunny afternoon -- when two teams COULD indeed be judged on the raw football merits -- Army made use of this big banquet table of opportunity. How richly rewarding it must be to know that on this proving ground of Winston-Salem, not all that far from Durham, West Point walked through a Carolina crucible and realized that not only was it intact, it could do great things... like have a winning season, make a bowl, and maybe beat a struggling Air Force team this Saturday.

Transformation. Army has achieved it in such great sweetness and abundance.

Let's see if this team can sustain the transformation against the sons of Colorado Springs this next weekend.


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