Texas- Many coaches will tell you a balanced offensive attack is the epicenter of a successful offensive game. However, nearly posting 200 yards rushing at the end of the first quarter may be enough to sway any coach’s opinion. It is how Army West Point throttled the Houston Cougars 70-14 in the 2018 Armed Forces Bowl Saturday evening. Led by Quarterback Kalvin Hopkins’ 170 yards rushing, Army posted 507 total yards on the ground and their first 11-win season in school history.
11 minutes had ran off the clock before any team would put points on the board. Army looked to establish their run game early having just attempted one pass on their first touchdown drive. Hopkins first of his five touchdowns put the Black Knights up 7-0 late in the first quarter. The 14-play drive placed the team in great position as they were 7-0 this season when they scored first.
The Cougars would get the ball back looking to answer Army’s lengthy drive. Their possession ended in a punt due to the start of a record-setting day from Linebacker James Nachtigal. Nachtigal recorded the first of his 3.5 sack day with the Cougars establishing some momentum on their second drive. 3 plays later the 44,000 in attendance would see the progression of another record-setting day from Hopkins. Using a little improvisation, Hopkins turned a busted play into a 77-yard sprint to the end zone.
“We got a bunch of guys who are just savages,” Senior center Bryce Holland said. “We got some talented guys, but the biggest thing is we got a whole bunch of tough guys. We wrote our own destiny with the attitude we came in with.”
With the Cougars down 14-0 at the start of the second quarter the pressure was mounting for their offense to create something. Nachtigal made sure that hope would continue to dwindle as he forced the first of his three force fumbles on the day. Defensive Back Cam Jones would swoop in for the scoop-and-score to put the Black Knights up 21-0 following the extra point.
The Cougars would finally be able to put together a complete drive, which ended in a three-yard touchdown pass to Tight End Romello Booker. Houston tried to capitalize on their new found momentum with a surprise onside kick. Army pounced on it and was set up close to midfield to start. Hopkins would hit Kjetil Cline for a 54-yard pass that put them on the one-yard line. Hopkins would sneak it in from there to put Army back up by three scores, 28-7.
It wouldn’t be long before Hopkins snuck his way back in to pay dirt following a strip sack from Nachtigal that stalled Houston’s drive and forced them to punt. Up 35-7 Army was in complete control of the game and their number 8 ranked defense assured there would be no hope of a comeback from Houston.
On the Cougar’s next drive Nachtigal and Kenneth Brinson would meet in the backfield for an Army sack to halt Houston’s drive once gain. Cougar Quarterback Clayton Tune was under constant pressure all game, which resulted in 10 Army sacks on the day.
As before, Army’s dynamic running attack would get them in the end zone for the sixth time before half. This time it was Running Back Artice Hobbs punching it in from 11 yards out. five Hobbs would finish the game with 65 yards rushing to go along with his lone touchdown.
The second half would present more of the same issues for the Cougar’s defense. Army drove the ball five plays, 47 yards for their seventh touchdown of the game, which was capped off by a 1-yard sneak from Hopkins.
“If we could just run it a little bit more I’ll be a lot more happier,” Army Head Coach Jeff Monken said. “I watched the same game you did. There was one team running it every down and another throwing it a bunch. If you can run the football better than your opponent and stop the run better than your opponent you’re going to win most of the time. That’s our philosophy. Balance is way overrated. Do what you got to do to win the game.”
Down 49-7 the Cougars still were unable to string together another touchdown drive. After marching down past midfield on their first drive of the second half, self-inflicting mistakes caused them to gift the ball back to Army. A fumbled handoff and a sack that combined for a loss of 16 yards put Houston in a horrific position on third down.
Though Houston was forced to punt the ball back to a hot Army offense, their defense would come through with their first and only stop of the game. Emeke Egbule for the Cougars got his second force fumble of the afternoon and was able to recover it as well.
The turnover set Houston up on their own 29-yard line. The offense would turn the ball over on downs in four plays and watch as Army strung together another 6-play drive touchdown. Hopkins would go over 1,000 yards rushing and passing on the season as his team sat on top 56-7. They also would claim the spot for most points ever scored in a bowl game.
“One of the goals we set out at the beginning of the season was to be the winningest team in Army football history,” Hopkins said. “To finish the season with that goal achieved is an amazing feeling. To do it for these seniors who came in and were 2-10 [as freshmen]. A lot of people could’ve packed in and been okay with that. They were excited to continue to work and make sure we were as excited as they were. To be apart of this transformation is an amazing feeling.”
After yet another score from Army following a Cougar fumble, Houston would find their way into double digits on a 13-yard scramble from Tune.
Army reached the end zone a final time and brought a close to a blowout loss in Fort Worth, Texas.
“There’s room for improvement,” Monken said. We didn’t win them all. We wasn’t perfect all along the way. But what a great finish. What a great way for these seniors to go out for their careers and have an unbelievable memory.”