Big win gives Army boost with Ball State looming

Army linebacker Steve Erzinger was looking for that signature

victory to right a season that had gone wrong at the outset.

The Black Knights (1-2) have that now with last week’s gritty

win at Michie Stadium over BCS opponent Northwestern of the Big Ten

– and with it a newfound resolve.

”It’s a great thing for our entire team,” said Erzinger, who’s

tied for 11th in the nation with 11.33 tackles per game and had one

of Army’s five sacks against the previously unbeaten Wildcats.

”Obviously, it builds confidence. We’re just excited. This is a

young team, a rebuilding year. It’s good to get a win, gain that

experience so we know how to win, get that feeling again.”

Army’s potent triple-option offense held the ball for just over

40 minutes and finished with 381 yards rushing on 75 carries

against Northwestern (2-1). More importantly, the Black Knights won

despite committing the only turnover of the game and rallied late

behind quarterback Trent Steelman. He scored the winning touchdown,

his seventh rushing TD of the season, with just under 3 minutes

left in regulation after the Wildcats had knotted the score.

Now, the Black Knights travel to Mid-American Conference foe

Ball State (2-1) on Saturday, and the challenge will be to keep the

momentum swinging in the right direction.

”This time we have to take all that energy and prove we can

take it with us when we get on an airplane, and play with the same

kind of verve,” Army coach Rich Ellerson said. ”It doesn’t get

any easier. The arrow stays up in terms of the competition.

Hopefully, it won’t matter where we are, what state we’re in, day

or night. On the next snap, the next time somebody snaps a

football, we’re going to come out of our shoes at you.

”But it’s going to be a real challenge to … prove that we can

take that kind of consistent effort on the road.”

Army opened its season with a 49-26 loss at Northern Illinois of

the MAC, and the Black Knights now face a team that’s something of

a mirror image of themselves.

Army has 29 players who have played in their first collegiate

game this season, including 12 freshmen, and 15, including three

rookies, have made their first collegiate start. Ball State

features a depth chart that has six freshmen in its two-deep

rotation.

So far, that hasn’t much mattered for the Cardinals, who opened

the season with a 27-20 win over Indiana of the Big Ten, lost at

18th-ranked South Florida, 37-7, and last week posted a 28-25

comeback win over MAC rival Buffalo.

Freshman tailback Jahwan Edwards rushed for a season-high 112

yards and scored twice against the Bulls before freshman wideout

Willie Snead stole the game. Playing in place of injured starter

Jack Tomlinson, Snead caught a 4-yard touchdown pass with 29

seconds remaining in the fourth quarter from sophomore quarterback

Keith Wenning. The score culminated an 18-play, 75-yard drive for

the Cardinals after Buffalo had taken the lead.

Army presents a stiff test.

Steelman, a junior with 28 straight starts, is averaging 100.7

yards rushing in an offense that’s averaging 362.3 yards on the

ground, second nationally. And the Black Knights lead the country

in time of possession, holding the ball for an average of 38:30.

They’re also No. 1 with 71.7 rushes per game (Nevada ranks second

with 55.5).

”It’s frustrating when your own offense is sitting idle on the

sideline, and we’ll be dealing with that this week,” said Pete

Lembo, in his first year as coach at Ball State. ”The ability to

get an early lead, get some stops and get the ball back, are

certainly keys to winning.”

The Cardinals rank eighth nationally with 34 minutes of

possession time per game. Ball State’s longest play from scrimmage

this season was a 25-yard pass play from Wenning to Connor

Ryan.

Grinding it out against the Black Knights might not be so

easy.

The Army defense held Northwestern to 10 yards in the third

quarter and only 107 in the second half, and 62 came on the

touchdown play that tied the game. The Black Knights have limited

their last two opponents to an average of 18.5 points and 300.5

yards of total offense.

”Now we have to see if we can handle somebody saying nice

things about us,” Ellerson said. ”We were able to handle things

when nobody had anything nice to say about us. Now, people are

saying nice things about us, but holy cow, we’re playing a really

good football team that is also used to winning.”