WEST POINT, N.Y. - Army will play its final home game of the 2009 season on Saturday, as the Black Knights (3-6) host Virginia Military Institute (2-7, 1-5 Big South) on Military Appreciation Day at West Point's Michie Stadium.
The Black Knights will be going for their third home victory of the season, which would mark the second time in three seasons they have posted at least a .500 home record.
Army has lost a season-high three straight games after a 35-7 defeat at Air Force last week. The game was tied at 7-7 at halftime, but the Falcons were able to score 28 unanswered points in the second half.
Saturday's game against the Keydets, an NCAA FCS opponent, will feature a pair of option offenses. Army is ranked 13th in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 216.33 rushing yards per game, while the Keydets are the Football Championship Subdivision's second-most prolific rushing offense at 254.89 rushing yards per contest.
With just three more games remaining in the season, the importance of each contest is not lost on Army head coach Rich Ellerson. "If we are paying attention here," said Ellerson, "we start to realize that these opportunities to play the game are getting fewer and fewer. Our seniors are playing their last game in Michie Stadium. If they stop for a minute and reflect on that they might say 'whoa,' because it's the last time most of them will play the game. These are precious moments coming up."
How to follow the game
For those fans unable to make the trip to West Point, there will be plenty of platforms from which to follow all of the action. Along with the national CBS College Sports broadcast (tape-delayed), the game will be available to military around the world through the Army Knowledge Online (AKO) via the CBS College Sports Network XXL web site. Kickoff for the game is set for 12:02 p.m.
Unlike the CBS College Sports Network television broadcast, the CBS XXL site will offer the game live at noon. Non-military fans may also watch online via CBSC XXL and paying a fee for the single game. Subscriptions for a month ($14.95) or the entire year ($119.95) are offered as well.
The CBS College Sports Network television broadcast, featuring on-air talent Dave Ryan (play-by-play) and Jason Sehorn (color analyst), will be tape-delayed and aired by the network on Saturday at midnight and again on Sunday at 4 p.m.
The Army Sports Network will carry Saturday's game in the tri-state area. Army's flagship station, 77WABC (770-AM) out of New York, along with WALL (1340-AM) and WEOK (1390-AM) in the Hudson valley will broadcast the call. WNSW (1430-AM) will provide a broadcast of the game in Spanish.
The Army audio feed of today's game can also be accessed through ITT Knight Vision, the multimedia branch of www.goARMYsports.com. Monthly subscriptions can be purchased for $9.95 per month, while annual subscriptions are available for $69.95. Fans can order either plan by visiting www.goARMYsports.com.
The Army Athletic Communications staff will provide an in-game blog, which will be available 15 minutes to the kickoff, and will feature interactive chats throughout the contest. The Army Sports Network will be broadcast via SIRIUS (channel 152) Satellite Radio. Twitter updates (twitter.com/ArmyAthletics) will also be provided throughout the game.
A look at the matchups:
ARMY HEAD COACH RICH ELLERSON
Alma Mater: Hawai'i, 1977
1st Season at Army (3-6, .333)
10th Season Overall (63-47, .573)
Record vs. Air Force: 0-0
VMI COACH SPARKY WOODS
Alma Mater: Carson-Newman, 1976
2nd Season at VMI (6-14, .300)
12th Season Overall (69-60-5, .534)
Record vs. Army: 0-0
Freshman QB Trent Steelman is Army's top offensive producer with 552 rushing yards (61.3/game) and four rushing scores. He has started all nine games which is an Academy record for freshman quarterbacks. In his first game against a rival service academy, Steelman ran for 102 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries at Air Force. It was the first 100-yard rushing game by a plebe signal caller in Army history.
VMI Senior quarterback Kyle Hughes produced his second 66-yard touchdown run of the season when he scampered on a option keeper on VMI's opening possession against Charleston Southern to give the Keydets a 7-0 lead. Hughes now has three touchdown runs over 43 yards this season, and ranks second on the team with 530 yards on 110 carries (4.8 yard average). All-purpose threat Tim Maypray is listed as the team's No. 2 quarterback. Maypray ranks among VMI's leaders in rushing (473 yards, 6 TD) and receiving (132 yards, 2 TD), while also returning punts (13.7 yard average, 1 TD) and kickoffs (two career KOR touchdowns).
IN THE BACKFIELD
Backfield mates Patrick Mealy (slotback) and Kingsley Ehie (fullback) rank second and third in rushing yards behind QB Trent Steelman this season. Mealy has rushed for 454 yards and one touchdown behind a team-best 6.3 yard average, while Ehie has amassed 422 yards and a pair of scores on 96 carries (4.4 yard average).
VMI leading rusher Howard Abegesah rushed for 160 yards on 20 carries against Charleston Southern, giving him 325 yards rushing over a two-game span. It was the 12th career 100-yard rushing game of Abegesah's career and was the first time he had posted back-to-back 100-yard games since the last two games of 2008. Abegesah leads the Keydets in yards (766) and carries (138) and is tied for the team lead with five TDs.
While Army senior WR Alejandro Villanueva has all four of the Black Knights' receiving touchdowns, Damion Hunter leads the way with 21 catches for 135 yards on the year. Villanueva ranks second with 17 receptions for 264 yards.
Mario Scott heads up the Ketdets' aerial attack with 224 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Junior WR Brian Barnson is tied for second with 10 catches for 175 yards. Maypray's 132 yards on 10 catches rank third on the team. He has two touchdowns so far.
Dating back to the Black Knights' 16-13 overtime win against Vanderbilt, Army has deployed the same starting lineup up front in LT Anees Merzi, LG Fritz Bentler, C Zach Peterson, RG Seth Reed, and RT Jason Johnson. The front five have paved the way for 1,947 rushing yards, and provided protection for Army QBs in the passing attack.
Conversely, VMI has listed eight different combinations across its offensive line through nine games so far. Versatile starters George Handler (6-3, 280) and Rob Bailey (6-4, 330) are the only two members to start every game. Handler has seven of his nine starts at center and two at left guard, while Bailey has four starts at right guard and five at left guard.
Junior DE Josh McNary had a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss at Air Force. His Academy record 11.5 sacks is third in the nation (1.28/game), while he leads the nation with 2.11 tackles for loss per game (19.0). On the season, McNary ranks fourth on the team with 49 stops (30 solo). Victor Ugenyi and Mike Gann also rank among the line's leaders with 29 and 25 tackles, respectively, from their defensive tackle positions.
In VMI's 3-4 defensive scheme, nose tackle Josh Wine's 50 total tackles lead the defensive front. Right defensive end Damiso Alexander is second on the defensive front with 28 hits, including 3.5 for loss. Patrick McKinney and Ben Brandt have shared duties at the left defensive end.
The Army linebacking core suffered a key loss at Air Force last week in junior LB Stephen Anderson. Anderson currently leads the team in tackles and will be replaced in the lineup by freshman Kyler Martin, who will draw his first career start. Sophomore outside linebackers Steve Erzinger and Andrew Rodriguez both rank in the team's top five tacklers, and have filled vacancies due to graduation admirably thus far.
Keydet ILB A.J. Gross is second on the team and leads VMI's linebackers with 55 stops as a redshirt sophomore, with OLB Emilio Calvin holding down the No. 2 spot after collecting 54 tackles through nine games. Fellow OLB Kris Ware has a team-best 3.5 quarterback sacks.
Junior free safety Donovan Travis ranks second on the team overall and is the secondary's leading tackler with 56 total stops. Travis has started 15 consecutive games which is tied for the second-longest streak in the Army secondary. He trails only senior CB Mario Hill, who has not missed a game in the last two seasons, starting a team-high 21 straight games.
VMI FS Byron Allen is the Keydets' top tackler with 91 hits. The redshirt sophomore also has 2.5 tackles for loss, two pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Jaun Thrasher is the second-leading tackler in the secondary, and ranks fourth overall with 52 tackles. He also has one of four VMI interceptions on the year.
Junior P Jonathan Bulls tied his career high with four punts inside the 20-yard line at Air Force last week. He nearly had a fifth, but the ball squirted out of the hands of an Army coverage man at the 1-yard line and rolled into the end zone. Bulls punted a career-high 10 times against the Falcons. He has a total of 19 kicks downed inside the opposition's 20-yard line so far, and is averaging 39.2 yards on 57 kicks this season.
On the other side, the Keydets have blocked three punts this season after enduring a drought of nearly four years. Last week against Liberty, freshman Stefawn Ross recorded a block, marking the first time since Oct. 14, 2000 that VMI had blocked a punt on the road. Each of the Keydets' last 12 blocked punts had all come at home.
The Black Knights take a trip to the Lone Star State to face North Texas on Nov. 21. It is Army's final game before taking on arch-rival Navy on Dec. 12. The Black Knights and Big Green have met twice before with Army scoring victories in bouth outings. Army's last trip to Denton resulted in a 27-10 victory during the 1996 season. The Black Knights defeated North Texas, 25-14, at Michie Stadium in 1997.