Two Of A Kind: Army Loses To A Twin

After vanquishing Vanderbilt, the Army Black Knights had reason to think that a winning record was well within their grasp in week seven of this sweetly significant season. Yes, Rich Ellerson's roster blew a very big opportunity in Philadelphia, but as this week's reflection shows, there's no shame in losing to Temple. Not anymore.

Naturally, a fair amount of disappointment is currently coursing through the locker room of the Brave Old Army Team. The West Pointers overcame a 13-point deficit to tie up Temple, but that gritty comeback didn't translate into the 4-3 record this team so deeply craved.

A three-quarter afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field (where a bigger game looms on Dec. 12 against You Know Who) turned into a 27-13 defeat in the final stanza. A fourth-down failure on the Army 24 and an even more frustrating fumble from quarterback Trent Steelman foiled Ellerson's outfit in a fourth quarter that quashed any talk of a sustained ascendancy. This crunch-time collapse prevented the Black Knights from grabbing the game they dearly needed in their pursuit of a bowl berth.

There's no doubt, then, that the pain of this particular loss will cut particularly deep for Army and its fan base. Much as a lack of discipline ruined this month's earlier tilt against Tulane, a putrid pile of pivotal penalties—14 of them for 100 total yards—once again knocked back the Knights on a day when Army's defense limited Temple to just 195 total yards, and only 80 of them on the ground. An EagleBank Bowl bid stood as a realistic possibility heading into this Philly fistfight, so the inability to capture a contest with postseason implications is cause for considerable lamentation.

Moments like this—namely, being able to climb to the sunshine side of .500 in the second half of October—haven't been too plentiful for Army in recent years. Any near occasion of success has to be seized with two-fisted totality, and the Black Knights simply didn't link themselves to the ways of victory inside the stadium known as "The Linc."

It's not a secret: Many (if not all) of the refrains and themes voiced after the Tulane game could be repeated this time around. Ellerson, his staff, and every single player who made the geographically short but emotionally long journey back to West Point is aware of the extent to which a lack of discipline is continuing to haunt the Black Knights. Therefore, in the interests of avoiding the overkill that can so easily enter into a year of game reviews, it's worth stepping back from the piercing pain of a wrenching defeat. As Army fans try to come to grips with a not-so-ordinary Saturday shortcoming, they can find some healing and consolation by looking to the other side of this Philadelphia story.

If anything good came from being toppled by Temple, it's the fact that coach Ellerson—in talking to his team—can say with complete honesty that the Owls are very much a twin in relationship to the Black Knights. If Army fans have had it bad since 1996, just consider the plight of Bill Cosby University, a long-forgotten and neglected presence in a professional sports town going ape over the Phillies and always in love (madly and harshly, but genuinely) with the Eagles.

Temple football actually enjoyed a modest measure of success in the 1970s, but since 1980, the Owls have failed to fly. A pitiful program won six games or more in just two seasons, 1984 and 1990. From 2003 through 2006, Temple won a total of just four games, making a 3-9 season feel like the embodiment of progress. Into the morass of the program's rock-bottom era stepped Al Golden, formerly the defensive coordinator under Al Groh at Virginia. Golden replaced woebegone coach Bobby Wallace in 2006, inheriting a mess and forced to be the caretaker of a 1-11 team in his first season at the helm. But as soon as he found his footing in Philly, Golden has been exactly what his name indicates.

Temple's new boss has demonstrated a Midas touch with respect to player development, attitude building and recruiting, a three-pronged plan that brought the Owls four wins in 2007 and five in 2008. Moreover, Temple's 5-7 record last season easily could have been reversed if not for a last-play Hail Mary loss at Buffalo and a last-minute collapse at Navy. This win against Army was anything but pretty, but anyone who saw it can't help but be impressed by the fighting spirit of these Owls, who battled and persevered in much the same way that Army did a week ago against Vanderbilt.

Hardly imposing and still in need of better execution, Temple nevertheless competed with the tunnel-vision tenacity of a program that's not just hungry for success, but intent enough to pay the price. In past years, losing to Temple would have been an unforgivable sin in the college football community; this year, with the Owls 4-2 at the midway point of their season, Army—though in agony after its fourth-quarter failure—has to tip the cap to a team that's in the process of imitating the Black Knights' return to prominence and respectability. While Ellerson orchestrates his own renewal project in West Point, this Temple team is newly earning its own share of admiration in the city associated with uber-underdog Rocky Balboa.

Go ahead—by all means vent and lament after another week of penalties and unsuccessful third- and fourth-down results. Do indeed push out the frustrations produced by a crucial fumble and a wasted performance from Rich Ellerson's defense. But while there's much for Army fans to curse after another empty weekend, do note that the Black Knights lost to a kindred spirit in the football world, with a coach and crew who are tracing a path that's oh-so-similar to the one being carved in West Point.

There is much regret in losing due to a lack of discipline. On the other hand, there's no longer any regret in losing to Temple. As Army's continued but uneven climb out of the darkness develops in 2009, acknowledge Temple's own rise from the ashes in college football. Knowing what the Owls have achieved might enable the Black Knights to find even more of the flinty resolve they'll most definitely need as the tough portion of this season's schedule awaits.

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