Like his fellow service academy quarterback Tim Jefferson did earlier in the week, Army’s Trent Steelman used his arm, not his feet, to hold off an SMU comeback to win the Armed Forces Bowl 16-14 Thursday afternoon.
Steelman completed only two passes all afternoon, but it was the second that iced the game for the Black Knights as the 22-yard completion gave Army a first down with under two minutes to play. Army killed the clock and won its first bowl game since Army beat Illinois in the 1985 Cherry Bowl.
The win gave Army it’s seventh win of the year and captured Army’s first winning record since 1996. Coach Rich Ellerson, in just his second year, has turned what was a struggling program around using the same option blueprint Air Force and Navy have used to field a successful team.
Army capitalized on SMU’s three first half turnovers to stake a 16-0 lead after halftime. Defensive end Josh McNary picked up a SMU fumble in the first quarter and returned it 55-yards to score Army’s first touchdown. SMU out gained the Black Knights by 184 yards but the defense led by bowl MVP linebacker Stephen Anderson kept SMU out of the endzone in the first half. Besides a few lapses in the second half, Army’s defense bottled up SMU’s high powered offense led by offensive maestro June Jones.
Army piled up 199 rushing yards with fullback Jared Hassin leading the charge with 82 yards. Running back Malcolm Brown scored Army’s only offensive touchdown on a 13-yard run.
SMU figured out Army’s option attack in the second half keeping the Black Knights scoreless, but the 16 points proved to be enough as Ellerson and his players hoisted the trophy in the end. In the first year that all three service academies played in bowl games, the three finished with a winning record with only Navy losing to San Diego State. How far all three have come just ten years after momentum seemed to build to move Army and Navy down to Division 1-AA.