No Funeral for Army at Wake

Once in a while, the scoreboard actually lies. Yes, there are times when a football team can score fewer points than the opposition, and yet walk off the field with the strange but real sense that it has gained more than it lost.

This is one of those times for the Army Black Knights, who earned a profound measure of respect and grabbed a large dose of confidence on Saturday afternoon in Winston-Salem, N.C. Stan Brock had to look on with admiration and encouragement as his boys displayed an inspired 60 minutes of football against the defending Atlantic Coast Conference champions.

Before praising the Black Knights too much, it's worth a reminder that, yes, losses are not acceptable in a more narrow competitive sense. You play the game to grow and learn, but you also play to win. In that more immediate context, one can only take so much satisfaction from a contest in which you scored ten points and your opponent tallied twenty-one.

When you take the proverbial "big picture" into consideration, however, it's clear that this game offers the Brave Old Army Team more than a little hope for this season and the future of the program under its new head coach. What looked like a potential disaster, a classic train wreck of an Autumn, after the limp Rhode Island performance is now a season that shows a certain degree of promise.

Sure, the offense will remain the biggest stumbling block for West Point football in 2007. This unit won't be terrifically productive, but when you consider how well the Black Knights can compete on defense (more on that in a bit), the mere avoidance of turnovers--especially point-sacrificing turnovers--will exponentially increase Army's chances in every game it plays. Had quarterback Carson Williams not thrown that fateful, fatal pick-six to Wake's Aaron Curry in the second quarter, the 21-10 final score could have been a 14-10 or 14-13 partial score heading into the fourth quarter. And with Wake Forest's offense struggling under the guidance of a backup quarterback named Brett Hodges (who filled in for starter Riley Skinner, injured in Wake's season opener on Sept. 1), anything could have happened in the game's final 15 minutes. In a one-possession game, Army would have stood just one mistake away from stealing a road win against the same program that played in the Orange Bowl last season. With one big play down the stretch, coach Brock could have defeated Demon Deacon coach Jim Grobe--yeah, the very same man who was the consensus choice as the 2006 ACC Coach of the Year.

So forget visions of 400-yard passing games or 30-point outings; if Army can merely protect the ball on offense, a number of games on the 2007 slate will become dramatically more winnable.

Why is this the case? We now turn to the main reason for hope in the Army camp, the same reason why Saturday's performance against Wake Forest was so encouraging in a larger context.

When you give up one touchdown to Rhode Island, that's all very well and good. But when you concede just one offensive touchdown to Wake Forest (even with a backup QB), and make the Demon Deacons' coaching staff worried enough to basically avoid the forward pass for a whole game, you've obviously done something to make opponents respect you. Army's defense faced only 12 passes Saturday afternoon, and not because Wake was running the ball at will. No, the Deacs wanted to avoid turnovers (though the Black Knights' defense still forced three of them) and overpower Army's defense up front. But after 45 rushing plays, Brock's defense--undersized and not very deep--was rock solid nevertheless, allowing just 3.6 yards a carry and avoiding game-breaking plays for the duration of the contest.

Campbell. Thompson. Bentler. Laird. Scappaticci. Chmura. These and other stalwarts--who will one day defend our country--are already experts at defending the Army end zone. That they did so against an ACC opponent of stature is that much more impressive.

With that extra shot of confidence in mind, the Black Knights and their defense now face another ACC team, a team that this same Wake Forest ballclub played dead-even for 40 minutes in New England a few weeks ago. Boston College is rolling on offense, with quarterback Matt Ryan topping the 400-yard mark more often than not in his first three games of the season.

But if there's a unit that can dig in and frustrate the BC bomber, it's this Army defense. After a sensational showing on Saturday, no task seems to impossible for the Brave Old Army Team's defense.

Stand back and wait: something special could happen when BC's irresistible force meets this increasingly immovable object Stan Brock is creating on the defensive side of the ball. Army could have been buried by the Demon Deacons this past Saturday, but weirdly enough, there wasn't a funeral held at Wake. The Black Knights' defense made an 11-point loss seem like a substantial adrenaline boost for a team that has new hope for the rest of this particular campaign.


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