From the start, it was clear that the Army football team was not going to let Air Force intimidate them Saturday.
Whether it was the Falcons’ 8-0 record and No. 17 ranking in the Associated Press poll (No. 25 in the CFP poll), their 13-game winning streak, their nation-leading 300 yards rushing per game, scoring nearly 33 points per game or even the fact that Air Force came into the contest as solid 18-point favorites, this Army squad made it clear that once the game starts, especially a Commander-in-Chief Trophy game, all bets are off.
And, that is the way Army played all day at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver, stunning the Falcons, 23-3, behind the aggressive and scrappy play of junior quarterback Bryson Daily, who ran for 170 yards and two touchdowns on a workman-like 36 carries, and a swarming defense, led by senior co-captain linebacker Leo Lowin, who had 12 tackles and two forced fumbles and senior defensive back Bo Nicholas-Paul’s two interceptions, that stumped the Falcons for a full 60 minutes.
Army forced an incredible six turnovers (four fumbles and two interceptions), one more than Air Force had committed all season, and stopped two fourth-down conversion attempts in the first half that led to a field goal and touchdown. Amazingly, Army, which came into the game with 20 turnovers, did not give the ball up at all.
“The turnovers were the difference in the game,” said Army coach Jeff Monken, adding that the offensive line and entire defense also played oversized roles in the win. “Our guys have had their share of troubles with turnovers. We turned the ball over way too much and it has cost us football games. That is disappointing. It is something we have pride ourselves is to be a team that does not turn the ball over.
“Isn’t it ironic that the two best games we played this year we have not turned the ball over. UTSA and the Air Force game today. When you do not turn the ball over, you give yourself as a football team a great chance to win.”
The victory, Army’s first after five straight losses, places the Black Knights at 3-6 on the season. More importantly, it gives Army, which has now defeated Air Force five times in the last seven years, a chance to take back the Commander-in-Chief Trophy with a victory over Navy on Dec. 9. It was the lowest point point total for Air Force since 2017 when Army blanked the Falcons 21-0 in Colorado Springs. It was also the first time Army beat an Associated Press-ranked opponent since knowing off No. 19 Air Force in 1972.
The Black Knights had lost to 52 AP-ranked opponents in a row. Army had not beaten a ranked team by at least 20 points since knocking off No. 18 South Carolina in 1958, a season where the Black Knights finished 8-0-1 and No. 3 in the country.
Air Force came into the game with a high-powered offense led by senior quarter Zac Larrier. But, Army’s pesky defense seemed to quickly take Larrier out of his routine, leading to the two interceptions and his one fumble on a botched pass attempt. Larrier finished with just 93 yards passing and 45 yards rushing. Overall, the Falcons only had 155 yards rushing in the contest, about half of their average this season.
“Obviously, we knew it was going to be a big game,” said Lowin. “They had a great season so far and I am sure they will continue to have a great season. They are a really good team. We have not had a great season and we saw this as a huge opportunity to turn that around. We have been working really hard and when you work hard, good things tend to happen.”
Daily, who was injured late in the Troy game three weeks ago, came out strong against Air Force. His 62-yard touchdown scamper on the fourth play of the game, put the Black Knights ahead for good, 7-0 and a quick stop by the Army defense on the Falcons’ first drive that allowed Army to take over on downs on the Air Force 34-yard line, set the tone for the game.
“We are familiar with them,” added Lowin. “Coach (Nate) Woody does a great preparing for them. We were keyed into what their keys were and what they were trying to do and we just kind of got after them. I think the whole premise was to make a simple game plan and play as hard as we can. That is what we did.”
Daily and the defense were not the only stars for Army. Junior kicker Quinn Martzki was 3-for-3 on field goal tries, hitting from 45, 40 and 38 yards. Punter Cooper Allen had six punts, including one for 52 yards, in the contest. And, as Monken noted, Army’s offensive line opened holes for Daily throughout the first half, allowing the signal caller to rack up 136 yards in the first half and Army to take a 23-3 lead into halftime.
And, of course, Army got to sing their alma mater second as is tradition for the winning team in
“It was the best feeling ever,” said Nicholas-Paul. “Being a senior and going out against Air Force like this with this group of guys. It was surreal. And go right to the Corps (of Cadets in attendance) and see all the joy in their faces. It was an awesome feeling. I wish everyone could experience it.”