Precious Points at West Point

Against a quality opponent, there's no shame in giving up hard-earned points. It's quite another matter, however, to gift-wrap scores that come free of charge. On a day when Stan Brock's team competed so gamely and gallantly against bowl-bound Tulsa, the one touchdown Army gave away became the play that knocked out the Knights.

True, the outcome of this wild shootout wasn't sealed until late in the fourth quarter, when a fourth-down failure and a Tulsa touchdown put the game out of reach with 1:33 left in regulation. But for all intents and purposes, this game turned decisively on one snap in the final minute of the first half.


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Tulsa has consistently been an upper-division member of Conference USA (Army's former league, it should be noted) over the past several seasons. The Golden Hurricane, who won the conference in 2005, are back in the mix this season. Tulsa stands one win away (against Rice on Nov. 24) from capturing a division title and a return trip to the C-USA Championship Game (against Central Florida or possibly East Carolina). This is a superb team Army played on Saturday afternoon on the banks of the Hudson River. Quarterback Paul Smith, who lit up Army's secondary to the tune of 390 yards and two touchdowns, has been a consistently great performer for the Golden Hurricane, a rock-solid leader with considerable talent. Getting toasted by Paul Smith is nothing to be ashamed of; almost all of Tulsa's opponents in recent years have experienced the same fate. With this in mind, Army needs to tip its cap to Smith after the signal caller's stellar showing at Michie Stadium.

Ah, but what about that one critical snap just before halftime? Indeed, there was one occasion on Saturday when Army's secondary--and not Paul Smith--was primarily responsible for a Tulsa tally.

After the Golden Hurricane took over at their own 25 with just 35 seconds left in the first half, Smith guided his mates to midfield. Then, with just ten seconds left before the break, Tulsa receiver Brennan Marion hauled in a 50-yard touchdown pass to put the visitors in front. While Army--behind the best game of the season from quarterback Carson Williams (26 of 38 for 328 yards and three touchdowns against just one interception)--would retake the lead in the second half, this play stands out because it represented Tulsa's one truly cheap touchdown while this game remained competitive. At a time in the contest when Army had no business being beaten for a big play, the Black Knights conceded seven points.

Tulsa earned 35 points on Saturday (if you don't count Tulsa's late garbage touchdown, a result of Army's desperate situation more than anything else), but those extra seven points stood out in a big way. When you then consider that Army lost this game by--in essence--three points, it was that 50-yard bolt from the blue which proved fatal for a team that competed so well for 60 minutes.

All in all, this is one of those games where a team should be proud of itself for fighting hard and making huge strides on offense. Carson Williams and his teammates could have hung their heads and gone through the motions. Instead, every player in Army's offensive huddle spilled his guts and insisted on getting better, both individually and collectively. Stan Brock has to be extremely pleased with the performance of Carson Williams and his resilient band of gridiron brothers.

There's only one thing that should leave the Black Knights truly upset after an admirable and gutsy performance: one touchdown that got away, seven points that were given away. If this team can be just a bit more airtight in critical situations, close losses can turn into close wins, and the texture of a season will be transformed. If Army allows the pain of this defeat to linger, the lessons learned against Tulsa could translate into victories when 2008 rolls around.


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