WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) — With the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy at stake, Jakobi Buchanan made sure the prized hardware returned to West Point.
Facing a fourth-and-goal from the 1, the 260-pound Army fullback followed senior captain left guard Mike Johnson through the Air Force line and into the end zone with 73 seconds left to give the Black Knights a 10-7 victory Saturday, their second emotional win in a week.
Army (9-2) was coming off a hard-fought 15-0 victory over archrival Navy a week ago in the first game between the schools at West Point in 77 years. The win gave the Black Knights their ninth CIC, emblematic of supremacy among the three academies.
“We were just determined,” said Buchanan, who finished with 86 yards rushing on 21 carries. “For us, fourth down is just another down to convert. We were all on the same page. We knew it was a game-winner. We had to get it. There was no other choice for us.”
The touchdown was the second fourth-down conversion of the march. Quarterback Christian Anderson converted on fourth-and-3 six plays earlier and Arik Smith’s interception on a deflected first-down pass after the ensuing kickoff sealed it for the Black Knights.
“I don’t know if I’ve processed it yet. It’s definitely tough, right?” Air Force defensive tackle George Silvanic said. “One play to win a championship and you don’t get it and they do. Hats off to them. I’m very sad and distraught and I’m heartbroken for the guys, the seniors. That’s kind of the feeling of the whole team right now.”
Quinn Maretzki kicked a 24-yard field goal early in the second quarter for Army’s other points.
The Falcons (3-3) beat Army 17-13 at home last year, stopping the Black Knights on fourth down at the goal line in the final seconds to escape, so this was a sweet payback, especially since it gave the senior class its 35th win, an academy record.
“The last drive, we found a way. We just weren’t going to be denied.” Army coach Jeff Monken said. “This season, this year has been a challenge for every human being on the face of this planet. There’s a spirit in this team and a love for each other in this brotherhood that’s just uncommon. This is the best team that I’ve ever been a part of.”
The Falcons (3-3) began the season with a dominant 40-7 win over Navy and were poised to capture their record 21st CIC after being stymied by the Army defense and failing to score in the first half. They went to the air late in the third and finally broke through behind Haaziq Daniels. He hit Kyle Patterson for 16 yards and 39 yards, and Brandon Lewis for 11 yards, to key a 10-play, 87-yard drive that he finished with a 10-yard touchdown pass over the middle to Patterson with 15 seconds left in the third.
But Army’s Jabari Moore stopped the Falcons’ attempt to seal it with an interception at the goal line midway through the fourth to set up the winning drive for the Black Knights, who have won 10 straight at home. Daniels completed a 22-yard pass to Ben Peterson on a third-and-18 play but got greedy and Moore made them pay with his juggling catch on the interception.
“The game came down to a couple of plays. We didn’t make those plays,” Patterson said. “Our defense was playing lights-outs. They gave us a chance. Just frustration.”
Air Force ranked second in the country averaging 336 yards rushing but was outgained 290-154. Brad Roberts ran for 83 yards on 11 carries and Daniels — who was intercepted three times — ran for 61 yards on 10 carries.
Air Force kicker Tevye Schuettpelz-Rohl, who was 5 of 7 on the season, missed twice in the first half from inside the 40, and just like last week Army entered the locker room with a 3-0 halftime lead.
Army lost starting quarterback Tyhier Tyler midway through the second quarter when Air Force linebacker Brandon Gooding delivered a helmet-to-helmet without a penalty. He was relieved by Anderson, the starter when the season began, and he finished with 85 yards rushing on 18 carries.
Air Force: The Falcons had lots of time to prepare for its service academy rivals. They started the season with the dominant win over Navy and had more than a month to prepare for Army. They were held to 109 yards rushing in the opening half and and 47 of those came on two carries — a 30-yarder by Roberts and a 17-yard gain by Daniels — as Army dominated possession time, holding the ball for 19 minutes and converting seven of 10 third downs.
Army: Through COVID-19, the Black Knights rebounded from a subpar 2019 despite starting four quarterbacks until Tyler emerged late in the season. Though the schedule had to be revamped almost entirely — it ended up including three championship subdivision teams. Monken did a masterful job, and the schemes of new defensive coordinator Nate Woody, led to a strong showing. Army entered the game ranked second nationally (272.1 yards per game).
Air Force: Its regular season is finished but school officials haven’t said if the team would play in a bowl game, if offered.