Army hosts Fordham, a historical foe
WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP)
It happens every year at Michie Stadium. The seniors bid farewell to the old stadium hard by the Hudson River, and it's never easy - in good times or bad.
''All of a sudden you feel like a plebe again. You wonder where the time went,'' senior wideout Austin Barr said. ''I can remember just being a young kid and this place was almost foreign to you just stepping out there. Now it's your home. It's where we've grown up, come together. It's definitely bittersweet.''
A win on Saturday over Fordham (1-6) of the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) would make it just plain sweet.
''Fordham is a game that getting a win could maybe jump-start (the season),'' Army linebacker Nate Combs said. ''Every time we come back to Michie, I feel like it's a different energy. We need that.''
Army (2-5) needs six wins before the season finale against Navy to be eligible to play in the postseason for the second straight year, but the Black Knights will be without junior quarterback Trent Steelman, whose academy-record of 32 straight starts will end. Steelman suffered an ankle injury in the first half of last Saturday's 44-21 loss at Vanderbilt and did not return. He is Army's second-leading rusher with 576 yards and has a team-high 11 rushing touchdowns.
Senior quarterback Max Jenkins will get the nod against the Rams, but coach Rich Ellerson intends to play freshman Angel Santiago, who made his collegiate debut at Vanderbilt. Santiago guided the Black Knights on one scoring drive, capping it with a 1-yard plunge for his first career touchdown.
''We feel like there's a little more explosiveness in Angel, and as things get settled down we'll look to get him in,'' Ellerson said.
The Black Knights rushed for a season-low 270 yards last week, snapping a six-game streak of gaining at least 300. Still, they'll take the field against Fordham ranked No. 1 in the nation in rushing with 348 per game.
The Rams are coming off a 45-24 road loss to Lafayette. Fordham gained a season-high 565 yards offensively behind junior quarterback Ryan Higgins, who completed 32 of 52 for 413 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, Fordham is allowing 31.7 points and 468.3 yards per game and the Rams lead the FCS in net punting (45.53 yards). Patrick Murray ranks second in the nation with a 46.71 yards-per-punt average.
The schools have played only twice, but it's probably no surprise that Saturday's contest is a sellout - there's a lot of history intertwined and West Point is just an hour's drive north from Fordham's campus in the Bronx.
The first Army-Fordham game took place on Oct. 24, 1891. It was just the second game in Army football history and the Black Knights won 10-6 for their first-ever triumph. Naturally, that first game was against Navy, a 24-0 loss at West Point.
Saturday's game is the first meeting between the teams since a 35-0 Army win at West Point on Nov. 5, 1949. Vince Lombardi, one of Fordham's famed Seven Blocks of Granite in the 1930s, was an assistant at Army under the great Earl ''Red'' Blaik and Lombardi's brother, Joe, was on the Rams.
That game was the brainchild of Tim Cohane, sports editor at Look Magazine and a Fordham alumnus who was a friend of Blaik. Cohane felt the game would help Fordham rise to the national prominence it enjoyed before World War II, and it was intense. There were several fights and 23 penalties for unnecessary roughness were called.
Ellerson is bracing for another tough one all these years later.
''I've been on the other side of that coin. I've taken I-AA teams to I-A schools and they'll play,'' he said. ''Don't kid yourself about how many players come out of those ranks. You watch them cover kicks, you watch them kick and punt. I promise you, they're covering a lot faster than Vandy. It's on the tape.''
Notes: Four members of the 1949 Fordham team - Andy Lukac, Dave Ficca, Tom Dolan, and Frank Pedlow - were expected for a West Point gala on Friday night. ... Army is 5-1 against FCS teams in the last six years. ... This is Fordham's second game vs. an FBS team this year. In September, the Rams lost to UConn, 35-3.