WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) Leading up to Army’s matchup with one of the best Football Championship Subdivision teams, first-year coach Jeff Monken played the underdog card.
Smart tactic against a 10-1 team, no matter what level.
Still, losing to Fordham was not how the Black Knights wanted to leave Michie Stadium for the year. And if not for the outstretched hand of Josh Jenkins and a timely recovery by Lamar Johnson-Harris, Monken might’ve had to explain how the Black Knights fell to two FCS teams for the first time since 1987.
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But Jenkins and Johnson-Harris forced a wild punt block for a touchdown in the closing seconds of the first half, giving Army – 0-4 when trailing at halftime – the lead for good in a 42-31 on senior day Saturday.
”Going into halftime, I was feeling like, I’m not sure if we can play a whole lot worse than we were playing,” Monken said. ”That was a big play and it changed the momentum for our team. It’s going to be 10-7 if we don’t make a play there. It was a big, big play for us.”
Larry Dixon tied a career high with three touchdowns on 158 yards to become the fourth player in school history with 3,000 yards rushing for the Black Knights (4-7). Terry Baggett added 52 yards rushing and a score, and quarterback A.J. Schurr ran for 70 yards off the bench as Army topped Fordham for the fourth time in four meetings.
”If you ask me probably next year, I won’t know how many yards I ran for, won’t know how many touchdowns,” Dixon said. ”It’s this brotherhood that drives me, and that’s what I’m going to remember about this game: that win we got together.”
Mike Nebrich was 27 for 38 for 352 yards, three scores, and an interception for the Rams (10-2). Brian Wetzel added 193 receiving yards on 12 catches, including a 65-yard touchdown.
In the teams’ last meeting three years ago, Army cruised 55-0 in a freak October blizzard that had fans evacuating by halftime. It would be closer this time, although the Black Knights never trailed after taking a 14-10 lead in the final seconds of the first half.
Fordham scored on the opening drive on Michael Marando’s 40-yard field goal, and Nebrich completed 12 of his first 13 passes. But the Rams didn’t capitalize until a gutsy play on fourth-and-16 from the Army 29.
Off a timeout, the Rams set up to punt. Instead, Joseph Pavlik surprised everyone with a pass high over the middle to the goal line, where several players went up for the jump ball. Marc DeSisto somehow came down with Pavlik’s first completion, and Fordham led 10-0 with 11:31 to go in the half.
Army answered when Schurr reversed field and scurried 54 yards to the Fordham 9, setting up Baggett’s rush two plays later. Baggett broke two tackles running in from the 6, and Army shaved the lead to 10-7 with 9:20 left before halftime.
It looked like that would hold up into the break with Fordham punting from its own 8 with 16 seconds to go until a diving Josh Jenkins got a hand on Pavlik’s punt from the end zone.
That set off a scramble for the loose ball before Lamar Johnson-Harris finally fell on it for Army’s first touchdown off a blocked punt since 2007.
”We definitely had them backed up, and we needed a play at that time,” Jenkins said.
”There was a tangible shift in momentum heading into the locker room,” Rams coach Jim Moorhead said. ”That one play didn’t cost us the game, but it did give Army some momentum going into halftime.”
Outgained 219-127 in the first half, the Black Knights relied on a fake punt of their own, a John Voit pick, and the blocked punt to build a 14-10 edge at halftime.
Dixon’s three touchdowns in the second half gave Army – which converted all four of its fourth-down attempts and was 7 of 14 on third downs – an important cushion.
His second score came 2 minutes into the fourth, when he muscled through from a yard out to finish off a season-best 20-play, 84-yard drive that ate up more than 11 minutes of game clock.
Trailing 35-24 with 5:17 left after a touchdown pass to Tebucky Jones, Fordham had to try an onside kick but Jeremy Timpf recovered to all but seal the win for Army.
Next up for the Black Knights is Navy on Dec. 13. Army hasn’t beaten its archrival since 2001.
”We’re going to have to play a lot better than we did today if we want a chance to beat Navy,” Monken said. ”Navy’s got an outstanding football team.”
Fordham – which already clinched at least a share of the Patriot League title and a trip to the NCAAs – lost for the first time since Sept. 6 at Illinois.