Home for the first time in over a month, the Army Black Knights are riding a wave of momentum after a successful road trip.
It’ll be a homecoming in more ways than one on Saturday afternoon in the Hudson Valley.
Alumni and families will descend upon West Point, as Army celebrates both homecoming and parents’ weekend. The weekend’s festivities culminate in the return of the Army Black Knights football team, who will finally play a game in their river fortress of Michie Stadium.
“It’s good to be coming back home and playing at Michie Stadium after many weeks on the road,” Black Knights head coach Jeff Monken said, according to GoArmyWestPoint.com. “It’s just nice to not have to get on a bus on Friday morning and go spend the night at a hotel away from our home city. I think just to dress in our own locker room and play in front of our own crowd and play in front of the Corps of Cadets is really special for us. And playing at Michie Stadium – this is a great place to play college football.”
It’s been over a month since Army wowed West Point with their reborn gridiron antics, stealing a narrow 28-21 victory from the offensive powerhouses from Hawaii on Sept. 15. Three road games and a bye week have followed, but that’s done nothing to deter the Black Knights’ return to relevance.
The Black Knights’ road swing was eventful, opening with a down-to-the-wire showdown against a nationally ranked opponent and ending with a blowout victory in an NFL stadium. It gave the program some nice exposure, reinforcing the positive shift in West Point football that ensures success or failure is not limited to the second Saturday in December in Philadelphia. Now, games like the one that opened the trip are heartbreaking rather than expected.
Taking on the Oklahoma Sooners, then ranked fifth in the Associated Press poll, in a game that was relegated to pay-per-view, the Black Knights took the renowned program to the brink, forcing the matter to overtime before bowing out in 28-21 fashion.
“Our guys don’t flinch, that’s the toughness that is a part of this program and built into the fabric of the culture that is Army football,” Monken said in a radio interview, according to the Times-Herald Record’s Sal Interdonato. “That’s West Point, and that’s the United States Army.”
In their continued rise, the Black Knights have put a scare or two in a Power Five conference program before, but would inevitably follow it up with heartbreak. For example, the Black Knights went to Columbus last season and played respectable football against Ohio State, the 38-7 final score being hardly indicative of its competitiveness. That effort, however, was somewhat undone a week later, in the form of a heartbreak 21-17 loss to Tulane at West Point.
This time, the Black Knights made sure their work would not be for naught.
In a dangerous visit to Buffalo, the Black Knights posted 21 unanswered points to turn a one-possession game into a 42-13 shellacking. That win likewise ended an opponents’ undefeated season, having snuffed out Hawaii’s chances in the aforementioned home thriller. Army would have some time to relish the win, as an off week preceded a visit to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA to take on San Jose State. The home of the San Francisco 49ers, Levi’s played host to a new grouping of offensive stars, as the Knights cruised to a 52-3 destruction fueled by 341 yards on the ground.
“They were tough, they played us really well on defense, and it was a pretty close game there for a while,” Monken said of the Spartans on GoArmyWestPoint.com. “Fortunately in the second half we got some turnovers and we were able to recover all of those fumbles. That made a big difference as we had a short field then. I was proud to see our guys capitalize on those opportunities, be able to get some scores and be able to come away with a victory.”
Diversity has been the key in the Black Knights’ recent success, the assortment becoming vital. In the San Jose State win, for example, none of their prolific rushers reached 100 yards, instead opting for five players to tally at least 30 in the victory. The unpredictability has caused chaos for opposing defenses, with veteran leadership taking a crucial role in the showcase.
The charge has been led by junior quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr., who has been efficient on the ground and, perhaps even more shockingly from an Army standpoint, through the air. With the Black Knights known for their triple-option offense, one that has worked opponents to defeat in terms of milking the clock, Hopkins has opened a new avenue of opportunity for them in terms of throwing downfield. With 605 yards through six games, Hopkins is on pace to become the first Army quarterback to throw for 1,000 yards in a season, with Carson Williams being the last to achieve the feat in 2007.
“I think Kelvin (Hopkins Jr.) has done a great job with our football team. You just don’t know what you’re going to get with a guy in a position for a first time,” Monken praised. “That’s not exclusive to quarterback, that’s with a lot of positions. I think he’s done a really good job. The thing I’ve been the most proud of is how he’s taken care of the ball.”
Having taken advantage of several opportunities on the road, the second half of the schedule offers plenty of new challenges and goals, ones that can bring the program to potentially unprecedented new heights.
Sitting at 4-2, the Black Knights’ remaining slate, starting with Saturday’s homecoming jubilee against the Miami (Ohio) University RedHawks (12:00 p.m. ET, CBSSN) includes just one more true road game, an October 27 visit to Eastern Michigan. In addition to the potential to earn back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in program history, there’s also a chance the Knights can earn the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy in consecutive years for the first time. The first leg of that quest comes in the first weekend of November when Air Force visits.
For the Black Knights, however, the focus is on the immediate chances, and not the hypothetical future summits they’re capable of.
“They’ve worked really hard the last few years to get this program to a level that we can be proud of, that represents this Academy the way it should be represented,” Monken said of Saturday’s expected atmosphere. “I’m glad that there is going to be a nice crowd out there to welcome them back home.”