Air Force went into halftime Saturday tied against Army, having gained 39 yards and three first downs and having lost a bit of confidence and a whole lot of momentum.
Like all of his teammates, Andre Morris Jr. never had fallen to Army. And he wasn’t happy, so he delivered a fiery locker-room rant that dropped a few jaws.
“We’re in the middle of a battle,” Morris screamed. “We need to get things going.”
His impassioned words sparked decisive action as Air Force dismantled Army 28-0 in the second half for a 35-7 win before a season-high 46,212 fans at Falcon Stadium, notching its sixth victory to become bowl eligible for the third straight year.
The Falcons, who beat Army for the fourth time in a row, abandoned the option pitches in favor of smash-mouth football, running Asher Clark and Jared Tew between the tackles with an unbalanced line. And they let Tim Jefferson play catch with Kevin Fogler, free to pass against a defense stacking the box and keeping its cornerbacks near the line.
Clark ran for two touchdowns — his 36-yarder put Air Force ahead 14-7 less than 4 minutes into the second half, and his 8-yarder with 2:47 left was the exclamation point. Jefferson gave the Falcons a 21-7 lead with a 73-yard touchdown strike to Fogler with 2:35 left in the third quarter, then he ran for a 2-yard touchdown 4½ minutes into the fourth.
Air Force (6-4) didn’t force any turnovers. But its defense rose to the occasion, shutting down Army’s two-man perimeter option after a first half in which the Black Knights (3-6) piled up 127 yards rushing behind quarterback Trent Steelman, who pranced 42 yards for a touchdown to answer Anthony Wright Jr.’s 88-yard punt return for a score.
“In that first half, everybody was looking to somebody else to spark us or make a play,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “In the second half, it was completely different. It’s not just getting your mind right. It’s getting your heart right.”
Jefferson joked that he “can’t really repeat” a majority of what Morris said. John Falgout said the speech “gave us that spark we needed. We had a little bit of fire, but we weren’t playing up to our potential. … I don’t think we were playing as a team.”
There’s no arguing with the results — Air Force had 291 yards total offense, including 252 in the second half, and it held Army to 236 yards, including 98 in the second. Tew rushed for 102 yards on 25 carries — his second game over the 100-yard mark — while Clark ran 13 times for 82 yards. Jefferson was 4-for-7 for 131 yards, all but 2 yards to Fogler.
The unsung hero? Air Force’s offensive line, which was persistent in trying to open more holes for Tew and Clark after Army clogged the middle in the first half and offered more time for Jefferson, who was pressured on the option and sacked three times in the first.
Clark said “the zone was working, and the line was blocking, and everybody was getting off the ball. ... Being patient with Jared, the defense was lulled to sleep, and they didn’t expect me to get the ball in zone plays. When I did get the ball, it was open.”
“We just kept pounding at them, grinding it out,” Fogler said. “A lot of times, that’s how it works out for us.”