Army expects another close one against North Texas
Close games have been the norm for Army for a long time. And that doesn't seem to bother head coach Rich Ellerson one bit.
''We're going to be in a lot of them. We're going to be in games that come down to the end,'' Ellerson said as the Black Knights prepared to face North Texas on Saturday at Michie Stadium. ''We have been in two so far this year that have come down to a single play. We don't expect it to be any other way. We hope it's that way, because if it's not that way, it's probably because we got clobbered.''
Army rallied to beat Eastern Michigan 31-27 on the road in the Black Knights' season-opener, then lost 31-28 at home a week ago to Hawaii on a field goal by the Warriors with 7 seconds left.
The loss was Army's third by three points or less in the last three seasons. Under Bob Sutton in the mid-90s, there was one season in which the Black Knights played five games that were decided by a total of 17 points. All five were settled in the final minute, three on the last play of the game, and all but one ended in defeat.
Hawaii's winning kick was set up by a fumble by quarterback Max Jenkins, who was pressed into action for the first time in his college career when starter Trent Steelman hurt his left (nonthrowing) shoulder in the third quarter. Tests revealed no serious damage, and Steelman was back at practice Tuesday taking first-team snaps.
''It's remarkable how resilient he is,'' Ellerson said of his sophomore leader. ''We avoided all of the worst-case scenarios. He's going to be sore, but he's not injured. As physically tough as he is, I think we'll be fine.''
Just like Army, North Texas (0-2) is coming off a close loss. The Mean Green led after three quarters at home last week, but Rice scored a touchdown with 6 minutes left in regulation and won 32-31.
''Offensively, they're a nightmare,'' Ellerson said. ''They're outgaining people all over the place. Turnovers have been their bane. We need to keep that going.''
North Texas outgained the Owls, 420-351, and it gave Army a tough game a year ago. The Mean Green outgained the Black Knights 447-287, but Army forced five turnovers and Steelman scored on a 2-yard run with 73 seconds left for a 17-13 win on the road.
''We have to play a complete game,'' Army linebacker Stephen Anderson said. ''Last week, we didn't start off real well defensively, and we didn't finish real well defensively. I think we're ready to take this next step. Like coach says, we're one step away from being a team that everyone is looking at.''
During fall camp, North Texas quarterbacks Nathan Tune and Derek Thompson split time with the first-team offense as they competed for the starting job. Tune won it, and last week he was 20 of 37 for 285 yards and three touchdowns against Rice before going down with a dislocated hip in the fourth quarter.
Tune is out for the season, thrusting Thompson into the limelight. The sophomore has about 5 minutes of playing time in college.
''I don't think about it too much. I know what I can bring to the table,'' said Thompson, who was 2 of 4 for 11 yards against Rice. ''I know what it's like being in a leadership position. I just want to earn the respect of my teammates, try not to do too much and go out there and get our first win.''
Success hasn't come often in September for Army in recent years. From 2000-08, the Black Knights were 4-30 and at one point lost 22 straight.
Ellerson, in his second season at West Point, likes what he's seen so far this year, though. In the loss to Hawaii, Army scored 28 straight points after falling behind 21-0.
''The biggest thing is the character of this team you've seen in the first two games now,'' he said. ''When we get behind, it's not like we're going to fall down, or fold or accept a loss. We are going to come back and we are going to battle. We know that whatever the score is on the scoreboard, we have a shot to win the game. I think we showed that last week.''