It was wild. It was crazy. It was memorable. Army and Air Force played a football game in a baseball stadium and created a contest which, while ragged and sloppy, contained all the drama and tension one would hope for in a Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy game.
The outcome left the CIC Trophy without a clear winner just yet, though the chances of a repeat champion just went up.
The Army Black Knights defeated Navy and Air Force in consecutive weeks last year, in an adjusted pandemic schedule, to win the 2020 CIC Trophy. Army hosted both Navy and Air Force, playing the two CIC games at Michie Stadium. Navy’s visit to West Point was a historic moment in the life of the celebrated Army-Navy rivalry. Army enjoyed what was clearly the greatest two-week period in the history of the program since the school’s last national championship in 1946.
This year, Army didn’t host Air Force. The Black Knights didn’t go to Colorado Springs, either. West Point and the Air Force Academy agreed to play a neutral-site game in Arlington, Texas, at Globe Life Field, the home of the Texas Rangers of Major League Baseball. This was an odd place to play a Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy game, and the actual game was one of the weirdest ones ever played between the two academy schools, but it sure was memorable.
As was the case a year ago in Michie Stadium, Army narrowly won thanks to its defense, which once again took center stage and made the day’s biggest plays.
Air Force suffered a tough six-point loss to San Diego State a few weeks ago. In that game, the Falcons failed to hit big downfield pass plays in crunch-time situations. Air Force also failed on fourth downs which halted promising possessions and gave San Diego State a short field. Those two problems were exploited by Army in the first-ever overtime game in the history of this rivalry.
Last year’s game was a 10-7 slugfest. This year’s game was a similar defensive battle in which neither team could establish the run. What was different about this game – not just compared to 2020, but to nearly every Army-Air Force game from the past – was that both teams primarily moved the ball through the air.
Air Force has sometimes – in its history – had a potent passing attack as a variation of Troy Calhoun’s run-first approach. Yet, Army has relentlessly and regularly emphasized the run. Jeff Monken has won some games without throwing or completing a pass in his tenure at West Point.
This game dramatically deviated from that pattern.
Army gained roughly two-thirds of its 322 yards from the passing game, collecting 214 yards on the day in Texas. Being ready for the big pass play in a triple-option system is always a central key for opposing defenses, but Army was continuously able to catch the Falcons off guard. Army completed eight passes, meaning that the average amount of yards per completion was just under 27, a massive figure for that many Army completions. This is what helped the Black Knights gain a 14-3 lead midway through the second half.
Air Force and Army were both held under 200 yards rushing, but the Falcons responded to an 11-point deficit by throwing the ball with success even though Army knew a pass was coming. The Falcons scored 11 fourth-quarter points, part of a 401-yard offensive performance in which a majority of their yards (226) came from the pass.
Army and Air Force both threw for more than 200 yards while rushing for fewer than 200 yards. Put this game in the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy time capsule and tell your grandchildren about it.
Though the stylings and contours of this game were very different from last year’s contest in West Point, the common thread was that Army’s defense rose up at the end. The Black Knights scored a touchdown on their first overtime possession, and then Army’s Jabari Moore broke up Air Force’s fourth-down pass in the end zone to seal the win for West Point, which can now win the CIC Trophy outright if it beats Navy in one month. A Navy win would leave each academy team with one victory in the three-game CIC Trophy competitions this year.
As Army moves on to Bucknell and Air Force deals with Colorado State in its Mountain West Mountain Division title chase, the Black Knights and Falcons will carry with them memories of a day which had a 10:40 a.m. local time kickoff in a baseball stadium, featuring an abundance of passing yards and capped by an overtime denouement. Army will cherish these memories, Air Force will rue a game which got away. Everyone will never forget this special neutral-site installment of the Army-Air Force series.
Meanwhile, Navy got pounded by Notre Dame. The Midshipmen have lacked heft and brilliance on their offensive line this season, which made this a matchup they were never likely to win. Navy’s defense kept the game close for a half, but as we have seen on other occasions in this series over the past decade, especially on trips to South Bend, Navy simply couldn’t hold up on a purely physical level over the course of 60 minutes. The Irish leaned on them and wore them down in the second half. The Midshipmen have played a daunting schedule, and while they took Cincinnati and SMU down to the wire, they didn’t have enough fuel left in the tank against the Fighting Irish. Navy will take a badly-needed week off and resume its schedule against East Carolina on Nov. 20.