It’s a smart move if it works. Army had fourth-and-1 on its first possession, the ball at the Rutgers 25-yard line. Most of the season, Army has taken the chance to go for the first down, particularly when so deep in the opposition’s end of the field. Not this time. Kicker Dan Grochowski was sent out to attempt a 42-yard field goal, a distance well within his range.
“We were trying to strike first,” Army head coach Jeff Monken said. “Trying to get on the board and get some points. Last week we had the ball on the 28‐yard line and it was second‐and‐one, then it was third‐and‐one and then it was fourth‐and‐one and we went for it and didn’t get it. Hindsight is 20‐20.”
As always. This time around, hindsight gave Monken the chance to witness Grochowski’s field-goal attempt blocked. Starting at the Army 40, it took the Scarlet Knights just over two minutes to take the lead. Army’s opportunity to take the early lead was turned on its head, and it set the tone for the game, a 31-21 Rutgers victory at Michie Stadium.
“If I had known they were going to block the kick, I would have tried to go for [the first down],” Monken said. “I’m disappointed we didn’t get those three points. It would have been nice to be right there and have it be a one-possession game rather than a two-possession game where you’re just kind of chasing them the whole time. They gave pressure in the gap on the right side and, credit to them, they blocked the kick.”
The game had a lengthy list of subplots. It was Senior Day. It was the last game of the season at Michie, after which began the countdown to the Army – Navy game. But most important, the game represented the debut of freshman quarterback Chris Carter. Both A.J. Schurr and Ahmad Bradshaw – who have shared the position this year – were out with foot injuries, as their respective, multiple-injury seasons continue to vary in degrees of severity. Carter had not taken a snap all season, hadn’t stepped onto the field during a game. Now, the stand-in was standing under center. If there were any butterflies circulating inside him, it didn’t show.
“I went into the game like I did in high school, I just tried to do my best,” Carter said. “As soon as I got onto the field I felt comfortable and knew that these guys had my back. There was no time to be scared. I had big shoes to fill and it was a big opportunity for me. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough, but I need to keep practicing and keep getting better each day.”
That may be necessary quickly, depending upon how fast either Bradshaw or Schurr can heal. On that very first drive, Carter looked in control. His first play was a run for six yards; the next, a 10-yard pitch to John Trainor. He followed that up with a 23-yard completion to Trainor. His arm is strong and he showed no hesitation to pass when needed. And Carter showed a remarkably quick step when cutting upfield.
“Offensively, with the two freshmen quarterbacks [the other is Luke Langdon], I thought Chris really battled and did a great job,” Monken said. “We had the one center‐quarterback exchange that popped out of there. I got to tell you on Thursday, when we were practicing out there, we had a stretch of five plays where we had four center‐quarterback fumbles. I didn’t know if we could get a snap. To only have one of those was big.”
When Rutgers recovered the ball following the blocked kick, the Scarlet Knights quickly displayed the diversity of their offense. There were two short runs by Paul James – who led all rushers with 116 yards – a 14-yard completion from Chris Laviano to Leonte Carroo, and an electric 29-yard run by Janarion Grant that brought the ball to the Army 7. James took it the rest of the way for a 7-0 lead.
Each team took a three and out, but then Army had that center-QB exchange that blew up in its face. Rutgers’ Josh Hicks recovered at the Army 39. Once again, a quick drive lasting 2 minutes, 15 seconds ended with a twisting, 1-yard run by James for a 14-0 lead.
“We didn’t do a very good job of stopping them from running the ball in the first half,” Monken said. “They were running the power play, running the stretch play, and [defensive coordinator] Jay Bateman kept talking to the guys about fitting the run better and we just didn’t a very good job there in the first half. We did much better in the second half. We missed some tackles.”
An 8-play, 88-yard drive that ended with a 33-yard Aaron Kemper touchdown got Army on the board, but Rutgers, 4-7, responded quickly, a 5-yard Robert Martin touchdown run giving his team a 21-7 lead. The Black Knights came right back, and it was Carter who got it going with a 45-yard run down the right sideline. Nine more runs, the last a 1-yarder for Carter, and it was 21-14. Rutgers owned the ball the last six minutes of the half, ending it with a last-second, 41-yard field goal from Kyle Federico.
“I have to hand it to Rutgers,” Army linebacker Jeremy Timpf said. “They played really physical and their power is amazing.”
A 54-yard run by James on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter set up his third touchdown, a 1-yard run six plays later, for a 31-14 led. Creativity doesn’t always equal success, which the Black Knights, 2-9, proved on their subsequent possession. A 10-play drive included a 14-yard run by Carter and a 22-yard completion by Carter to Nick Black; finally, Grochowski got his second chance for a field goal on fourth and 10. Or not. The snap went to holder Alex Tardieu, who handed the ball to Grochowski. Not only could Grochowski not go anywhere, he was tackled for a loss of five yards.
The Black Knights’ next possession featured what might qualify as their finest play of the season. From his own 35, Carter let loose with a pass that went just over the fingertips of Rutgers’ defensive back Blessuan Austin and was snagged by a leaping Edgar Poe, who turned, then zipped down the sideline for a 65-yard touchdown. Army tight end Kelvin White called it an “ESPN top‐10 catch.”
“When Edgar is out there you know that you can throw it up there and that he can get it,” Carter said. “It might not be the best ball, but I had confidence in him and he made the play.” That ended the scoring. Army’s offense was led in the air and on the ground by Carter, who ran for a team-high 111 yards and completed four of six passes for 140 yards, the latter an Army season high. As has been the case all season, when Army plays defense, it couldn’t score. Or vice versa. This loss definitely qualified as a vice versa.