Army Football
(Photo: Adrienne M. Terzuoli)

The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy will remain in West Point, as the Black Knights shut down Air Force’s attempt to take it back.

Geoff Magliocchetti

WEST POINT, NEW YORK-The Commander-in-Chief’s trophy will continue to reside in Eisenhower Hall.

Darnell Woolfolk had 117 yards on the ground and opened the scoring with a touchdown on Saturday afternoon in West Point, as the Army Black Knights took a 17-14 victory from the Air Force Falcons at Michie Stadium.

“There’s not a bigger goal we’ve got in our program than that Commander In Chief’s Trophy. It’s a source of pride for this Academy. It’s a source of pride for the United States Army. We’re glad to have it, and we intend to keep it.”

With the victory, Army (7-2) not only has their first winning streak in the Air Force rivalry since 1976-78, but they earned at least a share of the vaunted Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. Awarded yearly to the winner of the triangular service academy rivalry between Army, Air Force, and Navy, the trophy is housed in West Point’s performing arts center named after graduate Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States. After winning the trophy outright for the first time since 1996 last season, this will mark the first time in program history that the trophy will have a multi-year stay.

The landmark victory over the Falcons (3-6) was not easy to come by, even after two of Army’s first three drives ended in the end zone. The first possession was an extended journey that took up almost the entirety of the opening frame, concluding in a one-yard Woolfolk punch that gave Army the early lead. It was the 21st play of the drive, and five seconds before 13 minutes went by on the clock.

After three punts, the Black Knights went on a drive that was long in terms of yards, an 89-yard trek that was energized by a trademark Army fourth-down conversion. Needing a single yard from his own 42, Woolfolk gave his guys 52 instead, setting up a six-yard Kelvin Hopkins Jr. touchdown run on the very next play.

Signs of concern were apparent in the first half, however. The Black Knights lost 60 yards on four penalties, all of which were of either the unnecessary roughness or illegal blocking variety. Air Force managed to move the ball against the Knights’ defense, but they were kept off the board thanks to a Mike Reynolds interception of an Isaiah Sanders throw at the cusp of the goal line.

With the Army offense held in check in the third quarter, Air Force finally took advantage in the dying stages of the portion. Set up by a partially blocked punt, the Falcons needed just 34 yards to cut into the lead, doing so on a one-yard run by quarterback Donald Hammond, though the extra point clanged off the uprights to keep it at 14-6. In a sign of season-long resilience, the Black Knights earned points that wound up being crucial, a 13-play, 62-yard drive that ended up with John Abercrombie’s 30-yard triple that made it 17-6. Not to be outdone, Joseph Saucier took matters into his own hands on the Falcons’ next drive, scoring not just the six-yard touchdown, but the two-point conversion that narrowed the lead to 17-14.

In a sense of 2018 deja vu, however, the defense came up with a big stop, one complemented by offensive heroics and one that might be talked about for years to come on the banks of the Hudson.

The Falcons made into Army territory, but, facing fourth and short, they were unable to emulate the Black Knights’ fourth and short prowess. Linebacker captain Cole Christensen came up with a big stop, stopping quarterback Donald Hammond in his tracks, ending the potential tying possession before it could truly get rolling.

With the ball back, and forced to kill just over a minute of game time and two Air Force timeouts, the Knights found themselves with a fourth and short at midfield with 17 seconds to go. Owners of the nation’s best conversion rate on the down, the Black Knights went full speed ahead in the form of Hopkins’ single-yard push that set off West Point’s celebration.

“When our backs are against the wall, we never flinch,” Christiansen said. “Definitely in the second half they came at us differently. We got it done, though.”

Army Football
(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Afterward, the two teams came squared off at midfield in heated poses, though they came together to join in each side’s alma mater. Monken chalked it up to the rivalry spirit prevalent throughout the weekend.

“I think our team has gained confidence just with the success we’ve had, certainly against the other service academies,” Monken said. “These seniors that are here, that wasn’t happening when they arrived here, so they are the ones that have earned it and changed the culture of the program. We built a team that believes. I know they believe and no matter what happened out there today, they didn’t flinch. There were some things that didn’t go our way, but they didn’t flinch. I’m really proud of our guys, and I’m really proud of this senior class. They are the ones that have led it.”

Though the trophy will remain in New York, the CIC can be won outright with a win over Navy next month. Before that, however, the Knights will get two games against FCS competition, including a showdown with Lafayette next Saturday (12:00 p.m. ET, CBSSN). Monken is confident that his team will take that game, as well as the ensuing weekend’s matchup against Colgate, just as seriously as they do the games against higher-profile competition.

“I was really proud of our team for just finding a way to win,” he said. “We made some big plays to secure the victory. I think that epitomizes the mental toughness of this team. It wasn’t always pretty. There were a lot of things that we could have done better, but I’m really, really glad we won the game.”

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