Statistics can be deceiving sometimes.
Army was outgained by Holy Cross 395 yards to 265. The Black Knights collected 15 less first downs and lost the time of possession by five minutes. Holy Cross drove into Army territory on six of its eight possessions.
But, in the end, Army, thanks to early blocked punt that resulted in a touchdown and a defense that bent but would not break including a dramatic fourth-down stop from the 2-yard line, emerged with a 17-14 victory before a Veterans Day crowd of 30,600 at Michie Stadium.
After losing five straight games, Army has now won two in a row and improved to 4-6. Holy Cross dropped to 6-4.
The Black Knights jumped out to a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter. The first touchdown came on the blocked punt by sophomore defensive back Jabril Williams, which was recovered and returned into the end zone by freshman Elo Modozie, to give Army a 7-0 lead less than four minutes into the contest. Tyrell Robinson ran for a 21-yard score less than four minutes into the second quarter.
“Everyone was firing on all cylinders (on the blocked punt),” said Williams, who also blocked a punt for a touchdown against UConn last year. “We like to say a lot around here that we won that play earlier in the week because we practiced exactly what happened. You put anyone of the guys in my position, I guarantee they will make the same play. Everyone on that line was doing their job and getting passed their guys and executing the way they are supposed to execute. So, all credit to them and all credit to the coaches for scheming up such a perfect plan.”
In the first half, Army stopped three Holy Cross drives into Black Knight territory, the first on a strip-sack by senior linebacker and co-captain Leo Lowin, his second of the day, that was recovered by fellow linebacker Jackson Powell. The second was a sack by defensive back Quindrelin Hammonds on a fourth-down conversion and the third was when Hammonds grabbed his second interception of the season.
“Defense really stepped up today, getting that first stop,” said Army junior quarterback Bryson Daily. “It is awesome as an offense to know that our defense has your back and special teams has your back. The defense giving us that cushion to start the game was huge and then that first scoring drive was big for our offense.”
Offensively, Army struggled, mostly because of holding penalties. The rushing game produced 190 yards on 41 carries, with Daily running for 83 yards. He connected on four of six pass attempts for 79 yards, 69 of which came on a pass to Casey Reynolds, who was pushed out of bounds within the Holy Cross two-yard line with about five minutes left in the half. But, holding penalties, including one on the first play after Reynolds’ catch, slowed and stopped Army drives.
“Getting the touchdown and going up 14-0 was big and, obviously, we needed it,” said Army coach Jeff Monken. I would have liked to get another touchdown on that long pass that we threw to Casey. That is probably the drive I am most disappointed in and probably, frankly, most embarrassed about. We have the ball on the one-yard line and we walk it on first down, but we have a holding call, three on the day. Then, we take it back and get it back down to the one yard and we have three cracks from the one and did not get it in. We pride ourselves on those situations to get the ball in there and we did not do it.”
In the second half, the defense continued to stymie Holy Cross at key moments. Junior cornerback Jabari Moore knocked down a fourth down pass from the two-yard line that kept the Black Knights up 14-0 midway through the third quarter.
“We had a no-quit attitude,” said Lowin. “We are not going to make it easy for anyone to score a touchdown, not matter if they are driving the ball. We are going to make it as hard as possible for them to actually get it in.”
Added Monken: “Without that goal line stand, we probably do not win the game.”
But, Holy Cross hung around. Matthew Sluka, the Crusaders’ senior quarterback, who ran for 117 yards, found Justin Shorter for a 24-yard touchdown pass with 11:47 left in the game to cut the Army lead to 14-7. Helped by a roughing the passer penalty on a third-down play, Army drove to the Holy Cross 9-yard line before Quinn Maretzki hit a 26-yard field goal into the wind to put Army up 17-7.
A second Sluka touchdown pass, with about two minutes left in the game, closed the gap to 17-14, but Army’s Noah Short recovered an onside kick and Daily rushed for two yards on a 4th-and-1 to allow Army to run out the clock.
“They are a good football team,” said Monken. “They are a team that lost to Boston College by three points in their opening game. They won 12 games a year ago with the same quarterback. They have good players, they have good coaches and they are a good football team. I knew they would be tough and tough to beat.”