NEW HAVEN, CT – Jeff Monken had some explaining to do.
“We needed to make a foot,” the Army head coach said, holding his hands about that far apart. “We’re a running team. That’s what we do. We go for it right there and we get it. If you’re going to line up a guy and can’t move him a foot, you don’t deserve to win.”
In keeping with their coach’s sentiment, the Black Knights lost in overtime to Yale, 49-43 at the Yale Bowl Saturday, the Black Knight’s third straight loss. And this is how they did it. At about the midway point of the fourth quarter, Army held a 43-36 lead. The Black Knights were down at the Yale 15-yard line, just those 12 inches away from that first down. It was fourth down. A field goal would have given Army a two-score lead. Monken had his team go for it. Matt Giachinta was stood up at the line of scrimmage. Yale took over.
And even though the Bulldogs didn’t score on their subsequent possession, neither did Army, and that 7-point lead still held. Yale took over the ball with 4:35 left in the fourth. It took Yale just under three minutes and eight plays to run for the tying score. Army took over with 1:42 remaining in regulation. Two 10-yard completions by quarterback Angel Santiago helped Army move the ball to the Yale 25 with five seconds remaining. As Dan Grochowski lined up for a 42-yard field goal attempt, Yale called time out twice. Grochowski finally had his chance. He missed wide left on the last play of regulation.
In overtime, Army had the ball first, starting at the Yale 25. A.J. Schurr had started the game at quarterback, but an as-yet-undisclosed injury kept him on the bench in the second half. Santiago, the starter in the team’s first three games, led his team to the Yale 8 before Army settled for a field-goal attempt. Grochowski missed from 25.
It was Yale’s turn, and the Bulldogs moved the ball pretty much at will. In four plays, they got the ball to the Army 3. From there, tailback Tyler Varga put an exclamation point on an amazing day, rushing for his fifth touchdown and the victory. Varga’s 185 yards rushing led an offense that had 342 yards rushing and 290 yards passing. Quarterback Marvin Roberts completed 23 of 40 passes. After collecting 683 yards in its season-opening victory last week against Lehigh, a similar performance against Army seemed unlikely. Guess again.
“We just kept running, running, running,” Yale head coach Tony Reno said.
The two teams traded first-quarter touchdowns, Army taking a 7-0 lead as six different players rushed for 57 yards, the last three by fullback Larry Dixon, who scored the touchdown. Yale immediately responded, thanks to a near-equal blend of running and passing, and, perhaps most importantly, a pass interference penalty on Steve Johnson that cost 15 yards and brought the ball to the Army 17. After a 4-yard gain by Varga, Roberts took it the rest of the way on the next play, to tie the game 7-7.
The Black Knights, 1-3, regained the lead, thanks mostly to Schurr, who completed three passes for 61 yards, including a 22-yard TD pass to Edgar Poe. Yale responded in kind, moving the ball 70 yards in less than four minutes, Varga picking up his first touchdown on a 2-yard run.
Then it was Army, and it took the Black Knights just 55 seconds to get into the end zone, this time on a 43-yard run by Schurr, who made it down the field untouched, giving Army a 21-14 halftime lead. Army broadened the lead less than 90 seconds into the third quarter when Roberts’ pass was intercepted by Jeremy Timpf, who returned it 45 yards for a touchdown. Yale came right back, a 75-yard drive completed when Varga scored from the 15. Yale succeeded on the 2-point conversion, cutting the lead to six, 28-22.
On Army’s subsequent possession, it was a one-man show, with Santiago rushing for 10, nine, and, finally 53 yards for a touchdown. This time, Army succeeded in the 2-pointer, giving the Black Knights a 36-22 lead. Once again, Yale completed another 75-yard drive, this one ending with a 22-yard pass from Roberts to Ross Drwal. Yale tied the game 36-36 with another Varga score, this time from the 18, with 21 seconds remaining in the third.
“This was really a team effort,” Varga said. “The offensive line blocked incredibly for all the backs. This is a product of a serious team effort. The defense stopped them when it counted.”
Army regained the lead in just three plays, the first being Aaron Kemper’s first carry of the year, a 74-yard run that brought the ball to the Yale 1. Kemper failed to score on the next play; Santiago did, on the first play of the fourth quarter. It was on Army’s next possession, holding the 7-point lead, that Monken made the call for the fourth-down try.
“Army knows what it wants its offense to do,” Reno said. “It was a good opportunity for the team.”
Just not a successful one.
“When you go out there are certain things we practice over and over and when you don’t execute you get mad,” Santiago said.
Mad was a mild way of putting it. Monken’s face was beet red following the game, and he snapped at someone who suggested Army might have entered the game over confident.
“This team has won nine football games in four years. We’re not over confident,” Monken said with accompanying blazing eyes. “They played their butts off. They [Yale] have good players, too. Our guys were fighting our butts off. There’s no overconfidence.”
Whatever his team’s state of mind, Monken would only comment on his own.
“Obviously we’re disappointed,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been more disappointed.”