WEST POINT – Penalties. Lots of them. No, don’t look at Army.
"We had nine [actually, eight] penalties in the first half,” Morgan State coach Donald Hill-Eley said. “We knew that they were the most disciplined team coming into the game. We got a little caught up in the emotions of the game. There were some offsides on the offensive side, so we had about seven offensive penalties. Then we had a breakdown in the kicking game. That whole section of guys, from the snapper to the holder to the kicker, were freshmen, so we played a lot of freshmen and redshirt freshmen this game. This was a very big game and when you're playing freshmen, you tend to have one or two miscues."
The Bears’ first penalty came on only its third play from scrimmage, a false start that cost them five yards. Another 5-yarder for an illegal formation negated a first-down run later in the possession. On their very next possession, a penalty for an illegal facemask cost them another first down. On Army’s subsequent possession, quarterback Angel Santiago rushed for 38 yards, after which another 15 yards were added on a personal foul by Morgan State strong safety Darren Irby. That put the ball at the Morgan State 15; Santiago scored two plays later.
Other penalties ensued, accumulating in eight for 60 yards in the first half. The Bears only incurred one 5-yard penalty in the second half, but that didn’t undo the damage wrought in the first half.
"We have to improve that,” Morgan State quarterback Robert Council said. “Penalties help the other team, so when we get those penalties it gives them momentum. We have to clean up on the penalties to improve our game."
Not only did Army not get called for a penalty, the Black Knights were just as efficient holding onto the ball.
“The turnovers start with these guys right here,” Army offensive tackle Michael Kime said as he looked towards Santiago. “They were holding onto the ball and keeping it safe. They kept their five points of pressure on the ball. With the penalties, I think everyone was focused on one play at a time. No one was looking too far ahead. Everyone was just precise in the moment.”
“It’s hard to win a football game. That’s one of the axioms, if you’re going to have a season, you’ve got to win the opener, and we fulfilled that first condition of success,” Army head coach Rich Ellerson said. “That first condition of success, we were enjoying that. We have an awful lot of respect for our opponents. They battled their tails off. It’s remarkable to have the one punt blocked and to play 60 minutes of football like that in the opener and have no turnovers on either side of the ball. And if I’m not mistaken, I don’t think we were penalized. Some of those things, we were trying to pick a fight about. We were going to make a difference with our preseason and our approach through the spring and summer, and we did something. If you’re not penalized and you don’t turn the ball over, you’re hard to beat, that’s a good sign.”
Not having been called for a penalty nor committing a turnover, that’s the first time for Army since its victory over SMU in the Dec. 30, 2010 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl.
Of course, there’s always another way to look at success.
“We need to work on getting the ball out. We didn’t get any turnovers, and that’s not good,” Army free safety Geoffrey Bacon said. “We just need to be on point with what teams throw at us formation wise. We need to work on that, adjusting to different motions and different formations as a defense. We want to play on their side of the line of scrimmage. We did okay tonight, but as the season progresses we need to do a better job of that.”
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The victory left Army with a 94-27-4 record in season-opening games, and its first since a 31-27 victory over Eastern Michigan in 2010.
Army is 5-5 in night games at Michie; its last victory at night was a 20-17 overtime decision over Tulane in 2007.
Since the Division I ranks split in 1978, the Black Knights have played 64 games against the Football Championship Subdivision, accumulating a 52-11-1 record. Lafayette has been Army’s most common FCS opponent. The two teams have played 12 times since 1978, with Army winning 11. Army played at least one game against an FCS school from 1978-97. The schedule was solely FBS teams from 1999-2001 before the 2002 team opened against Holy Cross. The Morgan State game is the ninth consecutive year the Black Knights have played an FCS squad. The last time Army opened the season against an FCS team was in 2002, a 30-21 loss to Holy Cross. The last time Army opened the season with a victory against an FCS team was in 1995, a 42-9 victory over Lehigh.