Army on solid footing after impressive bowl victory
By Jeff Wilson
Zaxby's Heart of Texas Bowl Staff
DALLAS -- When the final heave from North Texas quarterback Alec Morris fell to the ground and the Mean Green was out of plays and out of time and unable to score again, what could be remembered as a breakthrough season for Army had been capped the right way.
The Black Knights secured a 38-31 overtime victory Tuesday in the seventh annual Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl on the strength of a ground game that churned out 480 yards and no turnovers at the Cotton Bowl.
Game MVP Ahmad Bradshaw rushed for 129 yards, the most by a quarterback in stadium history, and one score, and Darnell Woolfork rushed for 119 yards and two scores. The winning score, though, was a 3-yard scamper by Jordan Asberry on fourth-and-goal that put the cherry on an 8-5 season and a bright future.
"We're a work-in-progress, and I hope we always will be," coach Jeff Monken said. "I'm proud of our guys, especially the way we finished the season. To get eight wins, it's an accomplishment for our program, but along the way there were a lot of things I thought we could do better.
"I am encouraged because there are a lot of young guys in that locker room that played on that field today. A lot of those guys are going to be back next year. Hopefully they'll improve. The game experience, the veteran experience they will have will benefit us, and I hope we'll be a better football team next year."
Army finished the season with three straight victories and with its most wins since 1996. One of those victories ended a 14-game losing streak to rival Navy.
All five players who scored touchdowns against North Texas are underclassmen. So is safety Elijah Riley, who intercepted two North Texas passes.
"Our seniors did an amazing job of leading us," Riley said. "Going forward, we know that we have some big shoes to fill. There's light at the end of the tunnel. There's big things coming our way."
The victory atoned for a 35-18 home loss to North Texas on Oct. 22 in which the Black Knights committed seven turnovers. They protected the ball Tuesday, with the only turnover committed on special teams.
Army threw only four times, with two of them caught for key completions on scoring drives. They rushed 74 times, averaging 6.48 yards per tote, and had long TD runs of 70 yards by Tyler Campbell and 65 yards by Bradshaw.
But the win wasn't easy. Army led 24-7 in the first half, though failed to convert any of its point-after tries. North Texas closed to 24-21 at halftime and had a chance to take the lead on the first drive of the third quarter before Riley made his first interception deep in Army territory.
Up 31-28 with 2:18 remaining, Army needed two penalties against North Texas to help a drive stall. The Mean Green booted a 37-yard field goal with 28 seconds to play and forced overtime.
Army threw twice in OT, including a key 15-yard complete to Edgar Poe on third-and-8. After three runs moved the ball to the North Texas 3, Bradshaw took a fourth-down snap and tossed to Asberry, who found a seam and the end zone.
"I just knew that this was the game right here and if we didn't get in we might lose the game," Asberry said. "I just knew it was going to take my everything and I was going to have to give everything I've got to give to get in that end zone."
And it gave Army another building block going forward.
"I never had an off-season where we've been a winning team," senior linebacker Jeremy Timpf said. "It's these guys' jobs to really take it to heart and not slack off or not do anything different than we've done this year. The bar needs to be raised even higher."