YPSILANTI, Mich. – The Black Knights ended a 12-year drought in season openers, topping Eastern Michigan, 27-14, in front of 14,499 at Rynearson Stadium on Saturday night in head coach Rich Ellerson’s Army debut. The Black Knights are 1-0 for the first time since the 1996 season, while the Eagles fell to 0-1 under first-year head coach Ron English.
The Army defense keyed the victory, forcing three turnovers and limiting the Eagles to just 223 yards of offense. The Black Knights sacked quarterback Andy Schmitt six times, including 2.5 each by senior DT Victor Ugenyi and junior DE Josh McNary. The Black Knights racked up a total of nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
The Black Knights struggled most of the game, but came through when it counted, scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter. Army had 308 yards of offense, including 300 on the ground. Two hundred seven of those markers came in the second half.
Junior SB Pat Mealy led the squad with his first career 100-yard game. Mealy racked up 109 yards only five carries, including a career-long 75-yard to set up the Black Knights final touchdown. He also reached the end zone for the first time this season, scoring from six yards out on Army’s first possession.
Junior FB Kingsley Ehie was a big part of Army’s fourth-quarter success, scoring both touchdowns. The Springfield, Mo., native had a career night with 75 yards on 12 carries and his first two career scores.
Junior SB Jameson Carter racked up 52 yards and a touchdown on five carries, while freshman QB Trent Steelman ran 13 times for 20 yards. Steelman, the first Army plebe to start at quarterback in the modern era (since 1944), completed 2-of-5 passes for eight yards. The win was the first for the Black Knights with a rookie at the helm since the 1987 season, snapping an eight-game losing streak.
McNary led the team with nine tackles, including the 2.5 sacks. Sophomore LB Andrew Rodriguez made his collegiate debut, making seven tackles. He was also in on one sack and recovered a fumble. Junior DB Donovan Travis recorded seven stops and intercepted one pass. Junior LB Stephen Anderson also had seven tackles. Rookie DB Josh Jackson made his first career interception.
Schmitt went 18 for 31 for 183 yards , one touchdown and two interceptions. Dwayne Priest led the EMU ground game with 83 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.
Brandon Downs led the Eagles defensively with 10 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss.
The Black Knights have now won all three meetings with the Eagles.
Army forced Eastern Michigan into a three-and-out on its first possession, and took over at its own 43-yard line. After three plays, Ellerson wasted little time showing off his decision-making skills by going for it on 4th-and-1 from the EMU 48-yard line. Steelman ran a quarterback sneak to keep the drive alive. A 14-yard run by Mealy and an 8-yard pass to Damion Hunter helped move the ball inside the 10-yard line, but a false-start penalty backed up the Black Knights five yards. Army was able to overcome the miscue, however, and Mealy capped the 12-play, 57-yard drive with a 6-yard scoring run. The march chewed up six minutes and 44 seconds. Matthew Campbell’s PAT was off the mark to keep the lead at 6-0 with 6:12 left in the half.
After an initial first down on Eastern Michigan’s next possession, the Army defense forced its first turnover when Travis intercepted a deep pas s and returned it 55 yards to the Eagles’ 34-yard line. Army did not capitalize, going three-and-out. Jonathan Bulls’ first collegiate punt nearly died inside the 5-yard line, but trickled into the end zone for a touchback.
Neither team mustered much offense through the rest of the first quarter and into the second stanza so the Army defense took it upon itself to put the Black Knights in a position to score. Schmitt fumbled the snap and Rodriguez was able to win the scrum for the ball on the bottom of the pile to give Army a 1st-and-goal at the Eastern Michigan 7-yard line. A false start backed up the Black Knights to the 12-yard line. After a rush for no gain, Carter took a sweep around the left side and used a great lead block by Mealy to turn the corner and go in for the score. Campbell hit the extra point to push the Army lead to 13-0 with 5:56 left in the half.
Once again the defenses took over, holding both offenses to their own sides of the 50-yard line for the remainder of the half.
The Black Knights’ stop unit registered five sacks for a loss of 45 yards in the first 30 minutes, equaling their season high from a year ago (at Buffalo, vs. Louisiana Tech). Army limited the Eagles to 43 yards of total offense and negative eight yards on the ground.
Offensively, the Black Knights gained 101 yards on 28 plays, 93 of which came on 25 rushing attempts.
The 13-0 score marked the first time Army shut out an opponent through the first half since the Louisiana Tech game on Oct. 25, 2008 (7-0).
After Army punted on the first possession of the second half, the Eastern Michigan offense had its deepest penetration of the game, crossing the 50-yard for the first time. A 32-yard run by Priest gave EMU a 1st-and-goal at the 10-yard line, but the Army defense stiffened and gave the Eagles just five more yards to force a field goal attempt. Joe Carithers’ 21-yard attempt was wide left, keeping the score 13-0 with 9:17 left in the third quarter and setting up Army up at its own 20-yard line.
The two teams exchanged punts on the next two possessions. Following an EMU touchback, Chip Bowden entered the game at quarterback for the Black Knights. The drive was never able to get rolling as Army committed two straight penalties to make it 1st-and-21 at its own 8-yard line. Steelman re-entered the game one play later, but the Black Knights were still forced to punt from deep in their own territory.
Bulls’ seventh punt of the night gave the Eagles a first down at its own 48-yard line with 2:46 left on the third-quarter clock. Schmitt put the offense on his shoulder, leading EMU to its first touchdown. The senior completed five of six passes for 67 yards on the drive, including a 20-yard hook up with Trey Hunter for the score. The PAT was good, cutting Army’s lead to 13-7 with 13:58 left in the fourth quarter.
The Black Knights responded to the adversity, putting together their longest touchdown drive to that point. Army went 79 yards in seven plays, all runs, taking 3:30 off the clock. The Black Knights avoided disaster on the ensuing kickoff when Hunter fumbled on the return, but recovered his own miscue at the 21-yard line. On 3rd-and-4 from the Army 27, Carter took the option pitch from Steelman and followed another tremendous lead block from Mealy for a 31-yard gain to the Eagles’ 42-yard line. Ehie became the option of choice, running for 17 yards, nine yards, six yards and 10 yards on four consecutive plays, the last of which was his first career touchdown. Army went for the two-point conversion, and was successful when Ian Smith took a pitch around the right side to make it 21-7 with 10:22 left. Before the 79-yard march, Army had only 18 yards rushing in the second half.
Army went back to work at its own 20-yard line after forcing yet another EMU punt, the Black Knights faced a third-and-10, but Mealy took a pitch around the right side and burst 75 yards down the sideline to move the ball to the EMU 5-yard line. Ehie did the honors on the next play for his second score. Campbell missed the extra point to keep Army’s lead at 27-7 with 6:53 left. The Black Knights needed only four plays and 1:58 to go 80 yards.
Once again, Schmitt went to work, throwing the Eagles to their second score. EMU went 70 yards in eight plays, seven of them passes, including a 26-yard play on 4th-and-7 that put the ball at the 1-yard line. The play was originally called a touchdown, but was reviewed as Stone reached the pylon as he was falling out of bounds. The replay officials ruled his knee was down before crossing the plane. Priest plunged over the goal line on the next play and Carithers hit the PAT to make it a 27-14 game with 3:31 left.
The Eagles lined up for an onside kick, but Travis recovered giving the Black Knights possession deep in EMU territory. Army picked up a first down, but an Ehie fumble gave the Eagles the ball at their own 15-yard line. The Black Knights returned the favor on the next play, however, when freshman Josh Jackson made his first career interception and returned it to the EMU 13-yard line. Steelman took a knee to preserve the Army victory.
The victory snapped Army’s eight-game losing streak in season opener s played away from West Point (1-8).
Army opens the home portion of its schedule next Saturday, Sept. 12 when it hosts Duke at 12 p.m. CBS College Sports Network will broadcast the game live from Michie Stadium to a national-television audience.
Saturday’s game is part of Army Sports Hall of Fame weekend. Among the eight inductees in the class of 2009 is former Black Knights’ basketball coach and current Duke mentor Mike Krzyzewski. The first 5,000 fans through the gates will receive an 8x10 print commemorating the entire class.
For tickets, call the Army Athletics Box Office at 1-877-TIX-ARMY or click here.