But enough about Army's excessive charity toward some Pirates that didn't need it. Now that this game's done, let's take the larger and longer view of things.
The month of September, plus the October 2 heartbreaker against TCU, offered four learning experiences for the Cadets: two blowouts and two fourth-quarter failures. Those difficult moments clearly shaped and sharpened the Black Knights into a tougher, smarter and more cohesive unit in their victories over Cincinnati and South Florida. For a team short on depth and blue-chip talent--not to mention a lack of familiarity with winning before this season started--it was necessary to have the agony of defeat before the heady feeling associated with victories, victories that were part of an unavoidable learning process.
This loss to East Carolina, while wrenching in the short term, will be beneficial in the long run for Bobby Ross' crew. The coach who has revived Army football will now have another distinct way to motivate and teach his players. This loss wasn't a blowout, yet it wasn't the by-product of a fourth quarter collapse, either. This was a game where Army entered the stadium as a slight favorite after a bye week, and the combination of a winning streak and extended rest eroded the Black Knights' focus. Ross, for the rest of this season but also for the future in West Point, can use this East Carolina game to add to the total education of his players. The Black Knights have now had the experience of entering a game with the upper hand and not handling the occasion as well as they should have. In the long run, it has to help a team that sure learned from its first four losses of the season. Now, a new learning progression will hopefully develop in West Point.
Armed with the bitter but necessary awareness of how fragile winning streaks really are, the Cadets--sobered by some Piracy against East Carolina--can now tackle Air Force on Saturday and pursue the Commander-in-Chief Trophy with a much better mental mindset... and better attention to ball security.