Kale Pearson runs. His 370 rushing yards and four touchdowns serve as testimony. Kale Pearson throws. He’s second in the Mountain West conference – and 22nd in the nation – in passing efficiency, having thrown for 957 yards and seven touchdowns with just one interception. Yes, when the Air Force quarterback takes the field against Army Saturday at Michie Stadium, the Black Knights will be keeping an eye on him.
“What Air Force does so well is move the ball around to different guys,” Army coach Jeff Monken said. “The quarterback does a good job carrying it, they throw it to the tight end, they’ve got a number of running backs they will hand it to or toss it to and they do a terrific job. They aren’t one dimensional in the sense that they just line up under center and do single-option plays. They get in the gun, they get in the offset ‘I’ to run the power play and just do a lot of really great things offensively. They score a lot of points and are able to move the ball against some very good opponents and they take care of the ball. That’s the thing in an option offense where the ball is changing hands a lot that is sometimes a challenge and they do that really well.”
Air Force has won five of its seven games, and its victories have only come when its offense is clicking. The average score of those five victories is 37-24. Conversely, its two losses came when the Falcons scored a total of 29 points. Air Force began running the option in 1980, and Pearson broke the team record for passing yards in consecutive games in that era with a total of 450 this season against Georgia State and Wyoming.
The Falcons are also in the position of clinching the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, awarded to the winner of the round-robin series among Army, Navy and Air Force. Air Force defeated Navy 30-21 Oct. 4, so a victory would give them a sweep. If Army wins, the trophy winner will be determined when the Black Knights play Navy Dec. 13. Air Force last won the trophy in 2011; Army, in 1996.
“I’m excited for our players,” Monken said. “These are big rivalries for them more than anybody. It’s the players that play the game and I know how much they look forward to it and the opportunity of being part of a championship like the Commander-in-Chiefs Trophy and what that would mean. It’s been 18 years since the trophy has been here and it’s far too long. If it’s ever going to come back here we are going to have to do something about it so the guys are excited for the opportunity and they realize what the challenge will be. It is fun for all of us to be a part of rivalry games. I think that is one of the unique things about sports. We know we are going to play two common opponents each year so those are games we look forward to and those are big games on the schedule. There is a lot at stake and there is such a sense of pride with winning the academy games.”
After an opening-day victory, Army has lost five of six games. Most certainly the low point came in the Black Knights’ last game two weeks ago, when they not only lost, but got mauled by a winless Kent State team. With five games remaining, Army is still in the position of being able to salvage its season, and a home victory over Air Force would be a major step in the right direction. The Black Knights’ last win against Air Force was in 2012. It was Army’s only victory against one of the academies since defeating Air Force in 2005. Every little bit helps, and a coach is always looking for any kind of edge. A Saturday at Michie surely qualifies.
“Playing at home helps all the time,” Monken said. “I’d be in favor of playing every game at home, but they don’t allow us to do that unfortunately. You dress in your own locker room, you are familiar with the hotel, the routine is the same and I think there is something to be said by that. Really great football teams can go win anywhere, but I’ve always felt that winning at home is important and playing at home should be an advantage so hopefully it will be.”
A home game. A week off preparing for the Falcons. A chance to stay in contention for both a winning season and a visit to the White House that awaits the winner of the CIC Trophy. Too much adrenalin pumping in the Army locker room?
“You get too psyched for a game?” Monken said. “I’d like to see that guy; I want him on my team.”