For Army fans, Saturday's contest versus Northern Illinois could not have started in better fashion than it did.
With slotbacks Raymond Maples and Terry Baggett accounting for 30 & 38 yards respectively, the Black Knights marched 75 yards on 10 plays while utilizing 4:35 of the game clock and putting the first 7 points on the score board on Maples' impressive 22 yard jaunt off left tackle and his cut back up the middle ... pay-dirt.
Unfortunately the excitement and the lead were short-lived as Army's defense, that to this point had yet to prove it can slow let alone stop any offense allowed the Huskies to march 70 yards on only 8 plays that ended with a spectacular one handed grab in the end zone by tight end Tim Semisch to tie the score.
Northern Illinois would go on to score three more times in the 1st half.
What was most impressive relative to the Huskies' 1st half offensive performance was that all of their touchdowns drives were less than three minutes. Needless to say this did and would offset Army's time possession offensive performance.
To Army's credit, their offense that was now without Baggett, who would not return due to an undetermined injury was able to close the gap at the close of the first half. The Black Knights went on a 13 play, 77 yard drive in 3:22.
The highlight of the drive was a 13 yard bruising touchdown run by fullback Larry Dixon, which would be his first of three on the day. Not to mention he would go over the century mark (136 yards) for the first time in his Army career.
The scary part for the Army faithful was there still remained .12 seconds on the clock before the end of the 1st half. Luckily for Army, NIU opted to take a knew, run out the clock and go into the locker room with what appeared to be a safe 28-19 lead.
The second half turned in slugfest (Army's offense) versus a shootout (NIU offense) and it appeared that it would come down to the last man standing or more specifically, which ever offense had the possession would win the ball game.
Along with Army's defense playing two quality back-to-back series to start the 2nd half, it was the trio Maples, Dixon and quarterback Trent Steelman that lead the way.
All three players rushed for over 100 yards on the day with Maples leading the charge once again with an impressive 159, Dixon logged in 136 and Steelman hit the charts with 116. This was the first time that the Black Knights had three players in one game break the 100 yard since it was done in 1996 versus Rutgers.
With that type of performance, along a total of 486 yards on the ground and Time of Possession at 42:33 versus NIU's 17:27, most fans and statisticians would say Army dominated this game and of course, was on the winning side of the equation.
Not so fast. Yes, Army did win ... the slugfest, but when it came to the shootout, it was Northern Illinois hands down.
The Black Knights' defensive back will be first in line at the chiropractors offense on Monday, because their heads were on a swivel all day long. It didn't matter if it were wide receiver Martel Moore, who finished with 7 receptions for 134 yards, along with 2 touchdowns; Perez Ashford with 4 catches for 69 yards or Tommylee Lewis pulling down just 2 catches, but for 79 yards and a score ... quarterback Jordan Lynch had a field day.
To Lynch's credit, he was an equal opportunity distributor of agony for the Army defensive backfield. It didn't matter if it were Waverly Washington who got the starting nod over Tyler Dickson at corner and was eventually pulled from the game, Josh Jackson, Justin Trimble or Dickson, who stepped in for Washington, but probably wished he didn't. It was apparent after awhile, that the norm for the Huskies' offense was to line up trips right or left and with Dickson on the island by himself the scene was the same through the 2nd half ... another catch over a trailing Dickson or any other defensive back.
"That's a style of play," said Army Head Coach, Rich Ellerson, obviously disappointed in some the performance from the defensive backfield. "On some of those calls, the coaches nailed it. They knew exactly what was coming, and they put help in the secondary. It just doesn't manifest itself. We're just not fluid enough or good enough. There are a couple of big plays out there that we nailed if we would have played with the proper leverage and get the proper depth. It's all there. There are times when you're playing a quarterback who has those kind of legs that it's going to be skinny out there. We have to find some guys out there who will hold up."
However, even with those technical and mental errors defensively, this was a game about the last man standing and that's what it came down to.
To their credit, the Huskies went on a 13 play, 72 yard where they used 4:19 off the clock, but that also left 4:29 in the ball. Surely more than enough time for Army's offense to continue to do what they had demonstrated throughout the contest ... move the ball and score.
After NIU's kickoff and the touchback, it was 1st & 10 at their own 25 yard line, as the team was able to move the ball to the Huskies' 48 yard line, 1st & 10 and 3:15 remaining in the contest.
But the next several plays would seal Army's fate for the day, as Dixon was held for no gain; Army was then called for an illegal shift (2nd & 15); Maples for 9 yards (3rd & 6); Steelman rushes for 2 yards (4th & 4) and day is done as Steelman is tossed for a 2 yard loss by NIU defender, Boomer Mays.
Needless to say, Steelman felt that Army's offense should be able to make that yardage, despite the solid play of NIU's defense. "I'd say it was a little bit of both, but at the same time our offense is built for those moments," declares Steelman. "Our team is built for those moments. We have to be able to finish, and those are the types of moments you live for as a football player. To be able to be able to close a game out, finish the fourth quarter, finish the final drive and win the game."
With 1:47 remaining and Army with only one timeout left, the Huskies ran out the clock and Army's hopes of pulling out their first win of the 2012 season.
Northern Illinois 41
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