Army coach Rich Ellerson devised a simple defensive plan.
He stacked nearly all of his players on the line of scrimmage. He wanted to silence Air Force’s run game. He dared the Falcons to pass.
And for nearly three quarters, the dare worked. As the fourth quarter approached, the Black Knights trailed by a touchdown and Ellerson hoped for a mild upset.
Then Kevin Fogler obliterated Ellerson’s plan.
Fogler stunned Army with an improbable 73-yard catch-and-run to the end zone with 87 seconds left in the third quarter.
“Changed the complexion of the whole game,” Ellerson said.
It sure did. Fogler’s long, wild journey turned a tight game into an Air Force rampage. The Falcons leveled the Black Knights 35-7.
Ellerson’s scheme made sense. Air Force had passed for more than 100 yards only once in its past seven games.
And the Falcons’ deep threat is not blessed with the gifts you expect from a deep threat.
Fogler has great speed … for a middle school player. He was better at basketball than football at his Indiana high school. He stands a touch under 6-foot-5 and looks more like a stork than a sleek wide receiver.
But Fogler, a junior, is a craftsman, similar to former Denver Broncos star Ed McCaffrey. He runs superior routes, finding ways to arrive where defensive backs aren’t. He’s expert at fooling defenders into standing still.
“I can get them to stop their feet,” he said, “and I’m faster than guys when their feet aren’t moving.”
Fogler also possesses superior concentration and soft hands. He seldom drops a pass.
But he dropped one in the first quarter. Granted, it was a tough catch, but Fogler had two hands on the ball and failed to maintain control. He had violated his standards.
“Got to make up for this,” Fogler muttered to himself as he ran off the field. “Got to make a play.”
On the sideline, Fogler immediately sought out quarterback Tim Jefferson.
“Next time,” Fogler promised, “I’ll get it.”
He wasn’t just talking. Late in the third quarter, Fogler broke free from single coverage near midfield. Jefferson’s pass caught him in stride, and Army cornerback Mario Hill began chasing Fogler.
Hill was at a disadvantage. He lacked important information about Fogler.
There was no way Fogler was going to try to outrun Hill, or anyone else. As soon as Fogler caught the ball, he knew he would try to juke Hill.
Fogler made his move, coming to a near stop. He watched Hill run right past him. He cut to the middle of the field, and all he could see was fake grass ahead of him.
Soon, he was mobbed in the end zone by happy teammates. The Falcons were rolling. The Black Knights were done.
Fogler offered a warning to future opponents. UNLV, BYU and the Falcons’ bowl foe will be tempted to send legions of defenders against the run while assigning a lone defender to Fogler.
In a way, this makes sense. For decades, Air Force has avoided the pass while employing a run-obsessed offense that would be at home in 1909.
But Fogler gives the attack a fresh twist.
A dangerous twist.