Wright returns punt for TD in 35-7 win over Army
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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) — Air Force linebacker Andre Morris Jr. didn’t lead the team in tackles, didn’t have any sacks, and didn’t really turn in any spectacular plays.
Still, he may have made the biggest impact of all in Air Force’s 35-7 win over Army on Saturday.
Morris motivated his teammates with a halftime rant inside the locker room, lighting a desperately needed fire under the Falcons. Dominated by an amped-up Army team in the first half, Air Force was a different squad after intermission.
The Falcons (6-4, 4-2 Mountain West) scored on four of their five second-half possessions to turn a close contest into a rout as the team became bowl eligible for the third straight year under coach Troy Calhoun.
Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson contemplated recounting the specifics of Morris’ fiery speech, but thought better of it.
The message wasn’t exactly rated-PG.
“I really can’t repeat most of the things he said,” Jefferson said. “He got things going, and I credit him a lot.”
So did Calhoun. The Falcons were flat before Morris pumped them up.
“Sometimes you can say too much, but probably the biggest adjustment we made was attitude,” Calhoun said. “To play well in one of these games, you’ve got to be at an optimal pitch, and I thought that we played with a little more edge, were a little bit sharper and were a different football team in the second half.”
The Black Knights (3-6) had no answers over the final 30 minutes as they dropped their third straight. They had just 98 yards of offense in the second half after controlling Air Force to open the contest.
“We were outcoached, no doubt about it,” Army coach Rich Ellerson explained. “We got outplayed, we got outhit.”
With their quest for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy already spoiled, the Falcons tarnished Army’s chances as well.
Navy is secured of taking the trophy for a seventh consecutive season in the annual competition between the service academies. The Midshipmen, who beat Air Force earlier in the season, will either win the trophy outright by beating Army on Dec. 12 or retain it if they lose by virtue of capturing the crown last season.
Before the game, the Air Force Academy held a moment of silence in honor of the shooting victims at Fort Hood. The flags on the campus also were lowered to half mast.
Ellerson said the team talked about the events at Fort Hood leading up to the game.
“I think mentally we were in the right place,” Ellerson said. “We were prepared emotionally to compete. We were conscious of those events. We took some more on ourselves because of those events.”
Quarterback Trent Steelman rushed for 102 yards and Army’s only touchdown in the team’s fourth straight loss to Air Force.
Tailback Asher Clark got the Falcons’ offense rolling right after halftime, finding a hole in Army’s defense and racing 36 yards for his first touchdown of the season. He later added another score on an 8-yard burst.
Kevin Fogler caught a 73-yard TD reception that surprised even Jefferson. Fogler isn’t exactly the fleetest of foot, but he made some nifty moves near the goal line to coast in.
“I saw that from all the way down the field,” Jefferson said, smiling.
Jefferson, who was constantly fleeing from Army’s aggressive defense, added a 2-yard TD plunge in the fourth. He finished with minus-25 yards rushing on eight carries.
Army’s defense bottled up Air Force in the first half, limiting the Falcons to just 39 total yards. The Black Knights had three sacks, nine tackles for loss and limited the fourth-best rushing attack in the nation to only 4 yards on 21 carries.
But it didn’t last. Air Force finished with 160 yards rushing as Jared Tew gained 102 yards and Clark went for 82.
“It’s not just a matter of getting your mind right, it’s about getting your heart right, too,” Calhoun said. “I think every guy out there in the second half said to himself, ’I’ve got to make something happen.”’
Anthony Wright did his part, returning a punt 88 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. It was the first by a Falcons player in 11 years.
Wright has been turning in big plays all season for Air Force. The defensive back also has returned two interceptions for scores.
“He’s filled with exciting plays,” Jefferson said. “Every time he gets his hands on the ball, he thinks end zone. That was big.”
Just like Morris’ spirited locker room remarks.