WKU’s fourth-quarter comeback attempt falls short at Army

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WKU Athletics

WKU fell just short of defeating Army on September 11, 2021 at Michie Stadium in West Point, New York.

Wyatt Sparkman, Football reporter

WKU (1-1) flew up to Michie Stadium in West Point, New York, to play the Army Black Knights (2-0) on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on Saturday. WKU lost in heartbreaking fashion 38-35 after putting up 21 points in the fourth quarter.

“They’re a good football team. They do a great job with their offensive scheme,” head coach Tyson Helton said after the game. “It’s tough to defend. It was hard defensively to stop them. When you try to answer one thing, they give you something else to worry about. Tough day at the park. I was proud of our defense, they needed to get a couple of big stops there at the end and we were able to do that, [they] gave us a chance.” 

The Black Knights snapped a three-game losing streak against the Hilltoppers after they ran for 339 yards as a team on a 5.1 yard-per-carry average, owning time of possession by almost 20 minutes. WKU out-gained Army by 61 yards in total. 

WKU graduate quarterback Bailey Zappe completed 70% of his passes for 435 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Zappe also scrambled for his first rushing touchdown of the season in the second quarter. 

“They got a good connection there. I thought Bailey did a great job of spitting the ball out to a bunch of different guys,” Helton said. “Our guys caught the ball well. It’s good to see. You have to be able to make explosive plays, our guys made a lot of explosive plays.”

Army’s senior quarterback Christian Anderson ran for 126 yards for a 5.4 per carry average, completing 83% of his passes for 77 yards and one touchdown on a 40-yard pass in the second quarter. 

“Players just staying disciplined,” redshirt senior defensive tackle Jeremy Darvin said. “At the beginning, we were playing discipline, but we have to win the line of scrimmage. We were getting a little knocked back at first. I think we were playing just a little bit too passive, then we tried to pick it up at the end when it really helped us come back.”     

Q1 

Zappe and the Hilltopper offense charged onto the field for their opening possession without starting tight end sophomore Joshua Simon, who was ruled out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury an hour before kickoff. Freshman Noah Whittington started the game with a four-yard rush on his first carry of the season. 

Zappe spread the wealth, connecting with three different receivers to reach the Army 36-yard line. The drive came to an impromptu end when Zappe threw an interception to junior defensive back Marquel Broughton, who returned the ball up to the WKU 47. It was Zappe’s second consecutive first-drive interception.

The unique Wing-T offense of the Black Knights trotted out on the field for their first drive of the game with 11:22 left in the first quarter.

Army started the drive with two runs before pulling back for a 17-yard pitch-and-catch on a third-and-one between Christian Anderson and running back Brandon Walters, getting the ball down to the WKU 21-yard line. 

Army pounded the rock up to the WKU 11-yard line before sophomore running back Anthony Adams fumbled a pitch. Darvin pounced on the ball, giving possession back to the Hilltoppers with 8:02 left in the first quarter of play. 

Zappe started the next drive by connecting with former Houston Baptist teammate junior Jerreth Sterns for a 28-yard gain to put the ball at the WKU 48. The drive ended on a turnover-on-downs after two false starts pushed the Hilltoppers back.

The Black Knights ran the ball eight consecutive times to start their second drive of the game before junior running back Jakobi Buchanan picked up a fourth and one, ending the first quarter of play. 

Q2 

Sophomore running back Tyrell Robinson ran for a 24-yard touchdown on the opening play of the second quarter, putting Army on the board first.

Redshirt senior punter John Haggerty III made his first appearance after a WKU three-and-out but his first punt was partially blocked, traveling just 26 yards to the Army 47-yard line. 

Army picked up where it left off on its last drive, moving the ball down to the WKU 40 in three plays. Anderson connected with wide open junior running back Braheam Murphy for a 40-yard touchdown pass, extending the Army lead to 14-0 with 11:30 left in the first half. 

“You commit to the run so hard, that right when you overly commit and get some bad eyes, that’s what they do – they get behind you,” Helton said. 

The Hilltoppers answered back on their next drive with a 73-yard touchdown pass from Zappe to Jerreth Sterns on a third and seven, cutting the lead to 14-7 with 10:40 left in the first half. 

“I was really happy with the game plan,” Helton said.  “We knew early on that they were going to have a hard time covering us and so we took advantage of that. It’s like I said, you’ve got to take what they give you. They were loading the box a little bit, and so we took advantage of the pass, and Bailey did a great job of seeing guys open. A lot of good things in the passing game.” 

The Black Knight offense continued its dominance, moving the ball with ease from the Army 25 to the WKU 37 in six plays. Army converted its second fourth down of the game with an eight-yard completion from Anderson to junior wide receiver Cole Caterbone on a fourth-and-six.

Army continued to move the ball down the field with seven consecutive runs before Buchanan punched in a one-yard touchdown to extend the Black Knights lead to 21-7, bringing an end to an 8:33 drive. 

Zappe started WKU’s two-minute drill with a 24-yard completion to Jerreth Sterns. Junior outside linebacker Andre Carter II sacked Zappe on the next play, but Zappe shook it off and converted a third-and-17 with a 28-yard completion to junior Craig Burt Jr. 

The Zappe and Burt connection led to a 20-yard pitch-and-catch to put the ball at the Army 10-yard line. Zappe scrambled for his first rushing touchdown of the season, cutting into the Army lead 21-14 with 30 seconds left in the first half. 

Q3      

Army started the second half the way it ended the first, marching down the field with ease on a six-minute drive. Senior running back Cade Barnard narrowly picked up a third and two, avoiding a three-and-out. Army made it to WKU territory three plays later. 

Robinson picked up a 25-yard run to put the ball inside the redzone before sophomore running back Anthony Adkins forced in a three-yard touchdown run to put the Black Knights up 28-14 with 8:57 left in the third quarter. 

WKU’s first drive of the second half started promisingly, steadily moving downfield and converting two third-and-ones. The drive stalled out on the Army 29-yard line after a Zappe incompletion on fourth down with 4:46 left in the third quarter.   

Army milked the clock to the end of the third. The Black Knights ran seven plays for 39 yards, moving the ball to the WKU 32-yard line. 

 Q4

Army started off the fourth quarter with a third-and-two conversion. Redshirt junior defensive end Juwuan Jones sacked Anderson, WKU’s first sack of the season, pushing Army back to a third and 12. 

Anderson picked up a 15-yard run to keep the drive going. Buchanan scored his second touchdown of the day with 10:31 left in the game, extending the Army lead to 35-14. 

WKU bounced back on its next drive. Whitington started the drive with an eight-yard run and followed it up with a 13-yard run on a third-and-two. Penalties kept the Hilltopper drive moving with a neutral zone infraction on a third-and-two and 15-yards hands to the face that put the ball on the Army 21-yard line. 

Zappe found junior wide receiver Mitchell Tinsley open in the endzone for a 21-yard touchdown pass with 8:05 left in the game. WKU tried an onside kick on the kickoff, but the ball bounced into the arms of Broughton at the WKU 44-yard line. 

 

WKU’s defense stood its ground, forcing a fourth-and-two for Army. Micheal Pitts jumped the snap and tackled Anderson in the backfield, giving the ball back to the Hilltoppers with 6:21 left to play on WKU’s 37-yard line. 

“For the last five [minutes], I think we have to be more prepared for the last five,” Pitts said.” But how we did fight and come back and fight throughout the game, I love seeing that. Especially me being new on the team. I love being able to see that from my teammates.” 

WKU’s crucial drive started slowly after Jaleyen Jacobs sacked Zappe for a four-yard loss. Zappe converted the third-and-14 with a 22-yard completion to Tinsley followed by a 35-yard bomb, once again to Tinsley, to put the ball on the Army 10-yard line. 

Zappe made the match a one-possession game after an intentional grounding call with a 14-yard touchdown pitch-and-catch to Jerreth Sterns.

 

Army led WKU 35-28 with 4:57 left in the game. WKU tried for another onside kick, but Broughton came up with the recovery yet again on the WKU 44-yard line.

WKU’s defense forced Army into a third-and-seven, but the Black Knights converted with a 20-yard run by Anderson. The defense held their own on the next three plays, forcing a 31-yard field goal attempt. Junior kicker Cole Talley made the field goal to put Army up 38-28 with 1:52 left in the game. 

Zappe quickly took his team down the field, eventually getting the ball down to the Army 10-yard line. Zappe completed a three-yard pass to Tinsley in-bounds, allowing 30 seconds to run off the clock. Graduate Adam Cofield punched in a two-yard touchdown run to make the score 38-35 with 22 seconds left to play. 

The ensuing onside kick dribbled too far, allowing Army sophomore tight end Simon Dellinger to fall on the ball to end WKU’s fourth quarter comeback attempt.     

Up next, WKU will host the Indiana Hoosiers at Houchens-Smith stadium after an off week.

“I’m really looking forward to playing Indiana,” Helton said. “This is going to be a great atmosphere going home. You get a bye week, you try to [heal] up. They’re a really good football team, Indiana is, so hopefully we can build momentum and try to correct the things that need to be corrected and try to go get a big win.”

The game will be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network with kickoff set for 7:00 p.m. CT on Sept. 25. 

Football reporter Wyatt Sparkman can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @wyattsparkman3.