JaKobi Buchanan and his Army football teammates made a promise more than a month ago.
The sting from a 70-56 home loss to Wake Forest left the Black Knights never wanting to experience the feeling again. The team vowed to not lose another game this season.
Buchanan and Army continued to make good on their promise Saturday at Liberty. The junior fullback rushed for a career-high three touchdowns and the Black Knights’ defense stopped projected first-round quarterback and Liberty three times on fourth down early as Army extended its winning streak to four games with a 31-16 win.
“It’s just a promise to your brothers that it means a lot more to us and we are going to keep on playing and turn our season around,” said Buchanan, who rushed for a team-high 80 yards.
Army (8-3) started the season with four straight wins. Wake Forest was Army’s third consecutive loss. Since that day in the locker room of Michie Stadium, the Black Knights have allowed 57 total points during their second four-game winning streak of the season.
Arik Smith and Army’s defense set the tone from the jump. Smith and fellow captain Nolan Cockrill teamed to sack Willis on the game’s third play. The secondary held on fourth down, forcing an incompletion on the opening drive.
Cole Talley’s 26-yard field goal finished Army’s opening possession. Sophomore cornerback Bo Nicolas-Paul continued the momentum, reading a fake punt and picking off Liberty punter Max Morgan’s pass for his first career interception. Six plays later, Christian Anderson hit slotback Braheam Murphy for a 34-yard touchdown pass.
Smith sacked Willis for a 16-yard fourth-down loss on Liberty’s next possession. Buchanan would follow with two straight touchdown runs of 19 yards and 1 yard as Army built a 24-0 lead.
“That was a very important pledge in the locker room after that (Wake Forest) game,” said Smith, a senior linebacker. “We basically started a new season in that (Wake Forest) game forward and refocusing on the things we came into the season trying to do, getting very detailed and getting back to fundamentals as a program.
“The focus was coming in and doing our job. Everyone understood that this was a good quarterback that we were facing that we had to defend the pass but also the quarterback scrambling. I think that was something we did effectively.”
Willis gave Liberty some life with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Noah Firth and a 7-yard touchdown run on quick drives late in the third quarter. But, Willis completed just 7-of-18 passes in the fourth quarter. Liberty receives had multiple dropped passes and a holding penalty against Andre Carter wiped out a 58-yard touchdown pass to Demario Douglass.
Jabari Moore sealed the game, intercepting Willis with 32 seconds left. Moore gave himself up going to a knee and Willis made contact him. Jawing between Willis and Army players continued. Nicolas-Paul pushed Willis away from the talking and Willis threw a punch in the back of his head.
Army held Willis and Liberty to one touchdown pass with a revamped secondary. Junior cornerback Isaiah Morris made his first career start with senior Julian McDuffie and junior Cam Jones out due to injury.
Monken said the promise made by Army 35 days ago was more than about winning out the rest of the season.
“It was just a pledge that we weren’t going to beat ourselves,” Monken said. “If somebody’s going to beat us, they are going to have to line up and beat us but not make the mistakes that we can control that cost you football games.
“Paul Johnson was my mentor for a long time, 13 years, and he always said, ‘The best way to win a game is not to lose it,’ and he’s right. When you make silly mistakes, fundamental error, mistakes with assignment, those things can cost you dearly and they can cost you football game. The pledge was to not make those errors and do everything in our control to win the football game.”
Army is living up to the pledge offensively. The Black Knights’ offense has not turned the ball over the last four games.