Alex Tardieu was one of the more active Army players Saturday, which was not a good sign. A team in search of a victory would very much like to not see its punter so often. But there was Tardieu standing at various spots on the feld at Falcons Stadium eight times, trying his best to extricate his team from another in a series of little or no offense. Army lost to Air Force 20-3, a score that served as a perfect summation of the game.
There were plenty of reasons to accouint for Army’s seventh loss, but if there was a definitive turning point it came early in the second quarter. The game was scoreless when Army faced a third and 6 at its own 16-yard line when quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw faded to pass. With no open receivers, Bradshaw took off. By the time he was run down, he had gained 50 yards, giving Army the ball at the Air Force 34. Until everyone looked back and saw a flag sitting near the line of scrimmage. Offensive lineman Matt Hugenberg had been called for holding. Instead of having what would have been the Black Knights’ best position of the game to that point, they were instead back at their own 9-yard line. Bradshaw was sacked on the next play, at which time Tardieu made his presence felt.
Punting from the back of his own end zone, Tardieu got the ball to the Army 42. Back-to-back runs totaling 29 yards brought the ball to the Army 13. The Black Knights’ offense stood firm, and Air Force settled for a 22-yard field goal from Luke Strebel, giving the Falcons a 3-0 lead with 8:30 remaining in the first half.
Another Army possession and another Tardieu punt left Air Force at its own 17. On second down, quarterback Karson Roberts hit Garrett Brown with a 59-yard pass, bringing the ball to the Army 22. This time, Air Force, 6-3, found the end zone. Five straight short runs moved the ball to the 3, at which time Roberts hit Garret Griffin for a 3-yard touchdown pass with 2:12 left in the half and a 10-0 lead.
When Army punted on its first possession of the third quarter, it represented the team’s seventh straight punt on seven possessions. On their subsequent possession, the Black Knights’ finally found air, this time thanks to the foot of placekicker Daniel Grochowski, who hit a 47-yard field goal. It was his longest this season and second-best all time. His best ever was a 52 yarder last season against Navy.
The Falcons took over, and a 34-yard completion from Roberts to Jale Robinette brought the ball to the Army 28. They were able to move the ball five more yards before they once again turned to Strebel. On the first play if the fourth quarter, he hit a 42-yard field goal for a 13-3 lead.
Army struck for its biggest play of the game just minutes later when Bradshaw hit Edgar Poe for a 33-yard completion, moving the ball to the Air Force 40. On the next play, however, the Black Knights once again got nailed by a penalty, this time a holding penalty by offensive lineman Mike Houghton. With the ball at midfield, all Army could manage was five more yards before another punt. For the game, Tardieu averaged 41.2 yards per punt. His last one left Air Force at its own 11. But no matter. After a 6-yard run by D.J. Johnson, Bryan Driskell ran for 28 yards. Roberts then hit Brown with a 24-yard completion, getting the ball to the Army 30. Two short runs, then a 23-yard touchdown pass from Roberts to Griffin for a 20-3 lead with 8:11 left.
On its last possession, Army moved the ball to the Air Force 32, but a false start penalty and a sack of Bradshaw that was good for an 8-yard loss left Army with a fourth and 23. Army’s last offensive play of the game was a Bradshaw incompletion. Air Force then ran out the clock.