It hard to say that the season could fall on the outcome of one single game, but after a Tale of Two Cities start in their first two games, netting an 0-2 record, the Army Black Knights appeared to have put themselves exactly in that position.
At 1:30pm as the team made its way down Black Knight Alley towards their locker room area ... to the East section of the stadium, dark looking rain/storm clouds appeared, where they would eventually push the picturesque blue skies over Michie Stadium into an after thought.
However, unbeknownst to the 35,784 fans in attendance, there was a storm brewing elsewhere and the location was the locker of the host, the Army Black Knights.
Perhaps not all of the Army faithful game in as believers, but their was a coaching staff and a group of players that knew they were on to something, despite having been on the losing end of their first two contests.
"We talked about that if we were going to have the season we want, not that we're going to, but we have a chance now," said Army Head Coach Rich Ellerson after Saturday's ball game and 21-14 win over Big Ten opponent, Northwestern. "We needed one of these three. We've grown each week, and they've been able to stay together and we believed in ourselves. we were fortunate. We proved last week we could get on the field and be competitive and stand in there, and this week we proved we can finish it."
And not only did the Black Knights finish, but they came out the gate swinging. However, it was the Army defense that set the pace and the offense followed with the game plan.
Although Northwestern's first drive appeared they were going make their way from their own 30 yard line and march down the field, Army's swarming defense that appeared to more aggressive, faster and clutch as the game went on, halting the drive, whereby the Wildcats were forced to punt.
Enter the Army offense and 18 plays and 81 yards later, quarterback Trent Steelman on a 2nd & 6 from Wildcats' 17 yard line weaved his way around the left side after faking the pitch to Trent Steelman Trenton Turrentine and hit pay-dirt. The drive took 8:48 off the clock and was Army's longest touchdown drive of the season relative to the number of plays and time.
Army 7 - Northwestern 0
The Army defense continued to have 4-5 players around the ball on the Wildcats' next series and once again Northwestern found themselves in punt formation and although this was followed by Trent Steelman Alex Carlton's missed 47 yard field goal attempt, which snapped his streak of 11 straight, that did not slow down Army's defense.
But with 9:25 remaining in the 2nd quarter and off a poor punt by Chris Bolt, Northwestern would receive their best starting field position of the day. So with the ball at their own 49 yard line, the Wildcats went on a 11 play - 51 yard march, that was capped off by quarterback Kain Colter hitting Jeremy Ebert for a 14 yard pass in the back of the end-zone, as Ebert was able hold on while getting his feet down for six points.
Army 7 - Northwestern 7
The first half ended with the score dead locked at seven apiece and the stats relatively even on both sides of the ball, as the Wildcats had accumulated 192 yards in total offense compared to the Black Knights' 145 yards.
However, the end of the contest would see Army's defense play with that chaotic-control temperament that we spoke about in our GBK preview and slow down Northwestern's offense, so much that head coach, Pat Fitzgerald pulled starting quarterback, Colter and replaced him in the 4th quarter with seldom used, Trevor Siemian.
But just like their first series of the ball game, the Army arsenal of [db]quarterback Trent Steelman, slotbacks Malcolm Brown, Raymond Maples and Jonathan Crucitti along with fullback Jared Hassin went on a typical march.
On the 10th play of their 73 yard drive, Steelman was able to sneak it in for 6 points and the Black Knights took a 14-7 lead with 10:43 remaining in the 3rd.
And this is where the defense identity transformation begin to truly manifest itself.
Although the Black Knights' offense had slowed a little, on Northwestern's next two series, it was clutch plays from Zach Watts and Steve Erzinger on sack for a 5 yard loss and not to be outdone by his brother, Corey Watts was responsible for sack that put the Wildcats in a 3rd & 15 at the 7:27 mark of the 3rd quarter.
The 4th Quarter
The final period started off with the Black Knights in the driver's seat, while holding onto a 14-7 lead.
With the ball on their own 14 and 2nd & 7, the drive begins. All the Army faithful was for was a long timely drive, where they wanted 7 points, but would even settle for 3, especially the way the defense was performing.
And drive they did. From the 15:00 mark to start the quarter until their drive stalled at the Northwestern 9 yard line on a 4th & 2.
Alex Carlton, who appears to have lost some confidence was unable to connect on the 25 yard cheap shot, which saw Army's 13 play drive that took 8:25 off the clock result in zero points and new life for the Wildcats.
With Siemian at the helm, Northwestern hit it big and quick, as pitch and catch to Ebert saw the speedy receiver race up the field and out run Army defenders for a 62 yard touchdown.
With scored tied once again, you could feel the once confident Army crowd shift to a feeling of uncertainty.
Well, that feeling only lasted for a moment, because the offense, that was not going to be denied.
It now became the Hassin, Steelman, Brown, Maples and oh yes, the seldom used Scott Williams show.
The offense takes a stroll of 75 yards in 9 plays, that saw Steelman score his 3rd touchdown of the day and hit the century mark in rushing for the second straight game, as Army took a 21-14 lead ... with 2:49 left on the clock.
With zero timeouts in their register and a swarming Black Knights' defense, the Wildcats were unable to produce anything of significance and as the cannons sounded, it was music to the ears of the fans who witnessed Army's first win of the 2011 season.
Both the offense and defense were on the same page, and it was evident from the beginning that the Wildcats would have their hands full with the Black Knights' triple option.
"Our main goal for this game was to come out strong and make a statement about the attack offense," says Steelman. "That's what we did. These guys, Will Wilson and the entire offensive line, the skill backs and wide receiver, they played their butts off all game. They blocked until they couldn't block anymore. You watched us go. I was telling somebody before that I was almost in tears after that last touchdown just because of the amount of hard work and the amount of guts it took to put that drive together."
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