One Man's Ugly Duckling is Army's Swan

Turnovers. Blunted drives. Meager offensive output. The Army Black Knights didn't bring a lot of firepower to the fight against Louisiana Tech on Saturday at Michie Stadium. But on a day when a boatload of familiar bugaboos and blunders re-entered the equation, Stan Brock's team did something it hasn't done much in recent seasons: Compensate for its deficiencies with uncommon resolve.

The previous week's heartbreaker against Buffalo was a beautiful loss, as Army strutted its stuff with dynamic distinction for three quarters before faltering near the finish line. The Brave Old Army Team hummed and purred for the game's first 45 minutes before a late-game lapse that was made possible by a single fumble in the wrong place at the wrong time. The defeat in Buffalo gave Army fans a stomach punch, but the brand of ball put forth by the Black Knights compared favorably to what was seen this past weekend against the lads from Louisiana.

In this tussle with Tech, Army's offense stuffed the stat sheet in a negative fashion, littering the turf with four turnovers while managing only 235 yards. The unceasing struggles of his offensive unit had to give Coach Brock an all-too-familiar flashback to numerous contests in which his team came up short. The public record plainly indicates that ugly offensive efforts such as this one have historically whipped the West Pointers on Saturdays that didn't see much success.

On this particular afternoon, however, Army changed some history and found a way to overcome its offense. Unlike the late-game letdown against Buffalo, this black-shirted defense managed to focus and finish under fire.

While Army coughed up the pill with regularity, a close contest stood knotted at 7-all late in the third quarter. When Tech drove deep into Army territory, the Black Knights' defensive unit knew that with its offense struggling, a mere field goal would stand as a significant score, enough to make a difference in a game whose highlight reel won't soon make it to the College Football Hall of Fame.

When placed under pressure against the roster from Ruston, La., Army's defense—which, in this and previous seasons, has had to carry most of the load for the program under Brock and his predecessor, Bobby Ross—found the strength to stand tall yet again. The ever-dependable Frank Scappaticci led a gang of eleven that sustained its superiority throughout the gray and gloomy afternoon, and when the Bulldogs knocked on the door near the end of the third stanza, Army managed to hold that line.

By performing in the clutch, Army forced a 51-yard field goal attempt from Tech kicker Brad Oestriecher. With just one more first down conceded, Army would have had to sweat out a kick of medium length. But because the Black Knights were able to buckle down just inside their own 35, they forced a long field goal attempt under pressure, and when that 51-yard boot failed to split the uprights, an emotional corner had been turned. Army's defense gave its offense another get-out-of-jail-free card, and after a day defined by disappointments, Chip Bowden finally found a winning formula.

Liberated by the knowledge that he and his teammates were not trailing despite their many miscues, Bowden orchestrated an excellent adventure following the long field goal that Tech couldn't tally. The resourceful option quarterback managed to pull a pair of passes out of his grab bag of goodies, and both of them proved to be hugely important. The first completion was a 12-yard toss to Ian Smith on a 3rd and 5 that kept the drive alive. The second pass—following a 32-yard run from Smith—was Bowden's first touchdown pass of his entire Army career. Smith was the recipient of a two-yard flip that gave Army a lead it would never relinquish. The Black Knights received a heroic performance from their defense, but when something had to be done on the offensive side of the ball, it must be said that Chip Bowden, Ian Smith, and a persistent offensive front managed to put the pieces together.

The totality of this game did not acquire any heights of artistic expression. But when the smoke cleared and the clock hit the triple-zero in West Point, the home team had its third win in the past four games.

Pretty losses create their own kind of reaction, a sweet sickness in which satisfaction with the level of play is almost as great as the dejection which greets the ultimate result. But sweet sickness can never be as good as a humble form of health, which is exactly what a team feels when it stinks for prolonged stretches, but ultimately wins the war. That's what Army did on Saturday against Louisiana Tech. For a sharpshooting offense in the Western Athletic Conference, this game definitely rated as an ugly duckling.

For Stan Brock and his Black Knights, however, this difficult duel—because of its end result—stands as a beautiful swan. With more triumphs like this one, the Brave Old Army Team might not make highlight reels, but it will surely come closer to winning seasons and the bowl bids that will accompany them.

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