This was an Army team that was depleted by injuries to key players such as starter quarterback Trent Steelman, who would be missing his third straight game due to a high ankle sprain. Then add to that list of key personnel on the unable to play list was slotback and the Black Knights' leading rusher, Raymond Maples, who suffered a concussion on Thursday.
But the mindset of Head Coach Rich Ellerson and his team was simple ... bring it on every play as the Black Knights would go head to head with the Scarlet Knights at Yankee Stadium on Saturday in front of 30,028.
As Army took the field for their first series, 3/4 of starting backfield were freshmen, with Larry Dixon at fullback, Stephen Fraser at one slot position and behind center was Angel Santiago, who like Fraser was making his starting debut. Speaking of centers, Ryan Powis, although he has a few starts under his belt, is also a frosh.
And it didn't take long for plebles to get into actions, as the Black Knights marched down the field on the opening possession in 7 plays for 58 yards, as Alex Carlton closed off the 3:32 drive with a 18 yard field goal and 3-0 lead for Army. The highlight of the "drive" was a 55 yard gallop up the middle by Dixon, who stumbled down to the 4 yard line as he was tripped up from behind by Rutgers's cornerback, Logan Ryan, who saved a touchdown.
This of course was Army's achilles heal against Air Force last week and prevailed again versus Rutgers, as the Black Knights would have back to back series in the red zone, but come away with only 2 field goals and an early 6-0 first quarter lead.
It was clear that Scarlet Knights head coach Greg Schiano who has a successful resume against triple option teams, where Rutgers is 10-2 in their past 12 outings, was willing to give Santiago the liberty to show what he could do with his legs. Hence, the Scarlet Knights were to determine to cut off all pitch options for the inexperience quarterback.
That strategy played out throughout the contest as Santiago carried the rock an amazing 30 times, while the combined carries of Dixon, Fraser, Jared Hassin and Malcolm Brown were 24.
Obviously not all of carries can be attributed to the Rutgers' strategy, but the growing pains of a frosh QB, who's decision making will continue to net better results as his tenure continues.
Overall for both clubs, the respective defenses held down the fort and 1st half ended with a 6-6 tie.
However, coming out of the locker room after halftime, it appeared that Rutgers had re-energized and re-focuses, as they marched 8 plays, 67 yards and used up 4:07 of the clock. It was a combination of the Mohammed Sanu and Brandon Coleman show, as the two receivers seem to have their way with cornerback Josh Jackson.
Sanu, who has owned cornerbacks all season long, who later in the game set a Rutgers and Big East record for most receptions in a season, pulled down two passes on the drive, while Coleman beat Jackson on a 38 yard toss from quarterback Chas Dodd.
Rutgers 13 - Army 6
But this was a resilient Army team, who saw the defense make key plays, especially against Dodd's arm. With 2nd & 7 at their own 48 yard line and 3:36 left in the 3rd, Dodd feeling the blitz pressure from linebacker Steve Erzinger, sees safety Thomas Holloway stepped in front of his pass and return the ball 19 yards to the opponent's 36 and the Black Knights were back in business.
Army's scoring drive of 9 plays, 36 yards and a time of possession of 4:09, took both teams into the 4th quarter. That was the good news. The bad news is that on the PAT, Alex Carlton who's leg has been inconsistent throughout the entire season, missed what would have been the tying point.
Rutgers 13 - Army 12
Everyone who was in attendance knew who and where the Scarlet Knights would be going on their next series and it was back to Mr. Sanu, who will most likely be taking his act to the NFL in 2012. With 13:54 remaining in the game, Dodd found #6 twice, but on a 3rd & 2, Army's defense caused two yard loss and force Rutgers to punt.
The Rutgers' defense return the favor and it appeared that both offenses were looking for that break and whoever would step forward, could be pronounced the winner of Saturday's contest.
And that's when it appeared the Army had found the formula.
With 9:10 remaining, Dodd looking to open up the Rutger's offense, who at this point had a limited rushing attack ... but linebacker Kyler Martin had different plans. The junior defender jump the route on Dodd's attempt and made the interception, which game Army the ball 1st & 10 at their own 34 yard line.
On 2nd & 10, Army runs the option to perfection, as Santiago fakes the handoff up the middle to Dixon, heads down the line of scrimmage as the Rutgers' perimeter "D" is now accustomed to the signal caller holding onto the ball and they bite. The last second pitch to Fraser sees the speedy junior race 47 yards as he is pushed down to the 1 yard line, which gave the Black Knights first and goal and a chance to take a 19-13 lead with approximately 7:00 remaining.
"Hold On" though .... guard Frank Allen was called for tripping on the play and ball is brought back to the 43 yard line and it all went down hill from that point.
With the offense unable to move, Army was forced to punt and Rutgers sent everyone and everything, but the kitchen sink as defensive back Wayne Warren blocked Chris Bolt's and Jordan Thomas picks it up without missing a stride and pranced in from 32 yards out and that was the ball game.
Rutgers 20 - Army 12
Yes, Army had 6:30 to work with and made an attempt on what would be their final series of the game, but a combination of holding incomplete passes by Santiago nullified any chance of the Black Knights trying to tie the score.
Rutgers 27 - Army 12
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