The storm that whisked Dorothy from Kansas to Oz had nothing on the knockout punch Mother Nature delivered to the Cotton Bowl Saturday. The start of Army’s game against Louisiana Tech was delayed 64 minutes. Another near Biblical-sized array of rain, thunder and lightning stampeded its way in late in the first quarter, resulting in another 45-minute respite. But, ultimately, it was the Black Knights who weathered the weather as they pounded the Bulldogs 35-16, breaking their three-game losing streak. It was a game Army dominated from the very first play of the game, and it never released the throttle.
Tech running back Kenneth Dixon was thrown for a 1-yard loss on the first play of the game. It served as a portent. The Bulldogs had to punt on fourth and 3, at which time Army began the first of five drives that reflected the way Army aims to play, but had been failing to do so most of the season. A lengthy, clock-consuming, wear-down-the-defense drive during which five different players ran the ball that ended with a touchdown.
The first score came on a 13-play, 85-yard drive that featured a 25-yard run by running back Terry Baggett, five rushes totaling 20 yards from Larry Dixon, and, finally, a touchdown off a 9-yard pitch to Baggett.
Army’s defense held Tech to just five plays before it punted again, a 26 yarder that permitted the Black Knights to start at their own 34. And, once again, the depth of Army’s backfield was showcased.
This time, six different players got their hands on the ball, a drive that was halted again by the weather. When play resumed, it took Army less than two minutes and five plays to set up Baggett’s second touchdown, a 14-yard run, for a 14-0 lead. Arguably, the most important play of the drive was a 1-yard run by quarterback Angel Santiago on a fourth down that kept the ball in Army hands.
The Bulldogs, 1-4, were able to make some progress on their next possession, the big play a 20-yard run by Dixon. Finally, on third and 3, Ryan Higgins’ pass attempt was broken up by a near interception by Army defensive back Josh Jenkins.
The Black Knights, 2-3, were stopped for the first time on their subsequent drive, and this time it was Higgins’ time to shine. After Dixon ran twice for 15 yards, the red-shirt freshman quarterback completed a 33-yard pass to a wide-open Andrew Guillot. Two plays later, another completion to Guillot, this time for 18 yards. A holding penalty on the next play left Tech with a second and 25 at the Army 29. Higgins and Guillot erased that on the next play on a 29-yard leaping catch just over the goal line. A bad snap on the ensuing extra point left Army with a 14-6 lead.
Army struck again the next time it had the ball, taking a 21-6 lead on a 90-yard, 14-play drive that ended with Aaron Kemper’s first career touchdown, on which he scored untouched from the 3. A 15-yard chop-block penalty early in the drive left Army with a first and 21 from its own 11, but runs of 16 yards by Baggett and 17 yards from Trenton Turrentine got the Black Knights out of trouble.
The Bulldogs ran their hurry-up offense and were able to move into scoring range and Kyle Fischer hit a 31-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.
Army took the second-half kickoff and once again chewed up yardage on the ground, the longest one a 22 yarder from Baggett. Santiago rushed three times for 28 yards, then, on third and goal, from the 1, took it in for a touchdown and a 28-9 lead.
Tech got some help on its next drive. After a 39-yard Higgins-to-Guillot completion brought the ball to the Army 31, Higgins went for the end zone, where Guillot could not make a play in double coverage. However one of those defenders, Jenkins, was flagged for a targeting penalty. The call resulted in Jenkins’ ejection from the game. The 15-yard penalty put the Bulldogs at the Army 16, and Kenneth Dixon scored two plays later on a 7-yard run to pull Louisiana Tech within 28-16.
Army punter Alex Tardieu made only his second appearance of the game on the Black Knights’ next possession, but while Tech had the ball it was Army linebacker Colin Linkul who made most of the noise. Facing a second and 9, Higgins was sacked by Linkul for an 11-yard loss. Next play Higgins and Linkul met again, and his second sack led to an additional 10-yard loss. Linkul also recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter.
Army had Higgins on the run much of the game, but he still ended the game with 320 yards on 20-of-36 passing. His favorite target, Guillot, ended with five receptions for 123 yards.
The Black Knights put the game away on their next possession, and it was Santiago who most often had the ball, rushing five times for 30 yards. His final run was a gain of 2 that brought the ball inside the 1. But as Santiago’s helmet came off on the play, he was forced to sit out one play. And it was on that play that his replacement, Kelvin White, scored his first career touchdown.
The game featured some Army bests. The Black Knights scored on all five of their red-zone possessions. Baggett had rushed for 102 yards at the half and ended with a career-high 143 yards. Turrentine, a native of nearby Keller, Texas, had career highs of 81 yards on 12 carries. Santiago ran for 77 yards and a score; he also completed 1 of 3 passes for 16 yards. As a team, Army rushed 77 times for a season-best 414 yards. Its five scoring drives averaged 12 plays, 76 yards and 5 minutes, 55 seconds.
The Army defense also had its best game of the season defending the rush, allowing just 57 yards on the ground. It was the first time Army kept a team under 100 yards on the ground since limiting Fordham to 69 yards in 2011. The Black Knights sacked Higgins four times for a loss of 33 yards.