Army quarterback Trent Steelman runs past Air Force linebacker Alex Means for a first-half touchdown on Saturday. The Black Knights (2-7) defeated the Falcons (5-4) 21-14. (AP)
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WEST POINT, N.Y. — Trent Steelman rushed for 101 yards and scored twice, the Army defense held Air Force's high-powered offense in check for three quarters, and the Black Knights beat the Falcons 41-21 on Saturday to snap a six-game losing streak in the series.
Army (2-7) also stopped a 13-game skid in service academy games and stayed in the hunt for its first Commander-in-Chief's Trophy since 1996. The coveted hardware goes to the academy with the best record in the annual round-robin competition. Air Force (5-4) has won it outright the past two seasons. Navy beat the Falcons 28-21 in overtime a month ago.
Steelman was injured and did not play against Air Force last season in a 24-14 road loss. He more than made up for that absence on this day in a contest featuring the top two rushing teams in the nation. Steelman, who moved past Glenn Davis into third place all-time in rushing at West Point with 2,983 yards, passed for 100 yards and guided a ground attack that netted 314.
Army entered the game leading the nation in rushing at 383 yards per game, just 17 more than the second-place Falcons.
The Army defense intercepted three passes, stopped a fourth-down run from its own 1, forced Air Force to punt four times, and recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. Air Force, which had only punted 15 times in its first eight games, finished with 103 yards rushing on 43 attempts after averaging 5.8 yards per carry in its first eight games.
With the help of a successful onside kick, Air Force scored twice in the fourth quarter to throw a brief scare into the home crowd. Jon Lee scored on a 4-yard run and Connor Dietz ran in from the 13, but Army linebacker Nate Combs recovered a bad snap in the end zone that had gone through Dietz's hands to stop the rally with 2:50 left. Combs also intercepted backup quarterback Kale Pearson at the goal line in the final seconds.
Cody Getz, who did not play in last week's win over Nevada because of an injured ankle, finished with 23 yards rushing on 14 carries. He entered the game averaging 132.6, fourth best in the nation. Dietz was 10 of 17 passing for 185 yards and rushed for 37 yards on 10 carries.
The Army defense played its best game of the season and began to turn the tide in the second quarter. The Black Knights stopped Air Force on fourth down from the 1 and intercepted two passes that the offense turned into 13 points as Army gained a 20-7 halftime lead.
The Falcons entered the game ranked near last nationally in passing but first in pass efficiency, and the Black Knights became victims on Air Force's first two drives.
After taking a 7-0 lead to start the game, Army, desperate for a victory, used two timeouts on the Falcons' first possession, the second coming before the snap on a third-and-goal play from the 13. Whatever strategy the Black Knights devised went for naught when Josh Jackson was called for pass interference at the goal line. Wes Cobb scored on a 1-yard run two plays later to tie it.
Fourth-down gambles are the norm for both teams with their high-powered run games, and when Air Force forced Army to punt after three downs and drove to the Army 1 there was no hesitation with so much at stake. But the Black Knights stuffed Dietz for no gain on fourth down. The Falcons asked for a review of the play, but the power was out at Michie Stadium and the officials were unable to do it.
Steelman then stunned the Falcons with just his 26th completion of the year, a pass in the right flat to a wide-open Raymond Maples, who turned it into a 53-yard gain up the right side. The Air Force defense stiffened, and Army had to settle for Daniel Grochowski's 20-yard and a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter.
Dietz completed his first three passes to run his season total to 79 attempts without an interception, a big part of why Air Force has been so successful with its limited passing attack. That streak ended when freshman defensive back Brandon Fusilier-Jeffires picked off a Dietz pass in the left flat near midfield.
Army capitalized again with the pass as Steelman rolled out and hit Chevaughn Lawrence for 17 yards on a third-and-7 play to set up a first-and-goal at the 7. Two timeouts by the Falcons didn't help them as Steelman scored from the 1 for a 17-7 lead with 1:39 left in the second quarter.
Unfazed, Dietz hit Marcus Hendricks with a 28-yard pass to get the Falcons moving after the ensuing kickoff, and a 19-yard completion to Ty MacArthur gave Air Force a first down at the Army 28. But when Dietz tried to strike again with a pass down the middle, linebacker Geoffery Bacon intercepted and returned it 31 yards.
With the clock winding down, Army settled for Grochowski's 36-yard field goal with 3 seconds remaining.
Air Force trailed Army 14-0 at the half last year and rallied for a 24-14 victory at Falcon Stadium. The Black Knights didn't let that happen this time, forcing Air Force to punt on its first three possessions of the second half and scoring two straight touchdowns to take a commanding 35-7 lead.
After converting its third straight fourth-down gamble — Steelman rushed for 4 yards on fourth-and-1 — fullback Larry Dixon bulled his way for a 6-yard touchdown.
Maples scored on a pitch right and Steelman's two-point conversion made it 35-7 late in the third.
Beating the Falcons was a tall task. Army had lost 14 of 15 in the series and hadn't beaten the Falcons at Michie Stadium since star quarterback Ronnie McAda led them to a 23-7 triumph in 1996, when Army finished at 10-2 and Bob Sutton was named national coach of the year.