WEST POINT, N.Y. - Clinging to an all-too slim lead late in the fourth quarter, the Army defense came through with a key interception that halted a Penn drive deep in Army territory and helped to preserve a 35-26 win for the Black Knights. In a matchup of previously undefeated CSFL teams Army raised its record to 4-0 overall, 2-0 CSFL, while University of Pennsylvania fell to 3-1, 1-1 with the loss.
Penn trailed by the two-score margin with 2:04 still to play, but the Quakers refused to give in, led by an outstanding performance from quarterback Todd Bussler. Bussler, who completed 27-of-42 passes for a whopping 429 yards and two touchdowns, steered Penn's final drive down to the Army 9-yard line before throwing a costly interception to Robby Mandel at the 1-yard line.
In total, the two teams combined for 934 yards of total offense and exchanged the lead five different times.
With Army leading 7-6 after the second of four field goals, including a 45-yarder, from Penn's Raiaim Santos, both offenses got back on track over the final four minutes of the first half and continued to move the ball at will for the remainder of the contest.
The Quakers took their first lead of the game at the 3:25 mark of the second stanza after a 76-yard TD connection from Bussler to Whit Shaw, who frustrated the Black Knights' secondary for 274 yards on just nine receptions.
Just 2:33 later, Army answered and regained the lead, 14-13, on Benjamin Johnson's second touchdown of the evening from Tim Meier, capping a five-play, 62-yard drive. Not to be outdone, Penn drove 56 yards in just 36 seconds to take a 16-14 lead into the locker room after a 31-yard field goal split the uprights.
Coming out of the break, it was the Army defense that came up big, as JP Cooper and Thomas Malejko recorded a first-down sack that the Penn offense couldn't overcome. The Quakers' subsequent punt pinned the Army offense at its own three yard line with 9:45 remaining in the third.
Needing a score to regain the momentum, Army's offense marched 10 straight plays without a setback to find the end zone on a nine-yard run off right tackle from senior captain Ricky Lentz. The drive was also highlighted by a 47-yard catch-and-run from Johnson, who registered 108 receiving yards.
Penn pulled to within two, 21-19, after another field goal from Santos, but saw the lead grow back to nine, 28-19, after Morris' six-yard run with 7:55 remaining in the game.
Again, Penn surged back, as Bussler found a wide-open Shaw for Penn's final score of the game from 43-yards out to trim the lead to just two at 28-26. Army freshman running back Marquis Morris burst through the line for a 68-yard TD scamper up the sidelines just two plays later to set up the late-game heroics from Mandel.
Linebacker Bryan Girouaud led the Army defense with 12 tackles (six solo), while Eric Shirley and Thomas Malejko added seven hits apiece. Malejko also registered three tackles for a loss of 14 yards, including two sacks.
Army (3-0 overall, 1-0 CSFL) will return to action at noon next Saturday in the Allegiance Bowl in Saratoga, N.Y. Army is the designated home team for the contest. For more information on the Allegiance Bowl, visit www.AllegianceBowl.com.