WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) — Kale Pearson hit tight end Garrett Griffin for a 54-yard touchdown early in the third quarter to break open a tense game, Will Conant kicked three field goals, and Air Force beat Army 23-6 on Saturday to win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for a record 19th time.
Air Force (6-2) has won five of six, including a triumph over Navy, which put the Falcons in position to capture the trophy on Saturday. The Falcons beat Navy 30-21 a month ago.
Army (2-6) hasn’t captured the coveted hardware, emblematic of supremacy among the three service academies, since it won its sixth in 1996.
It was the 49th meeting between the service-academy rivals, who rely on the run game. The Falcons lead the series against Army 34-14-1 and have won 16 of the last 18 in the series. The Falcons are 31-12 in Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy games against Army dating to the beginning of the round-robin competition in 1972 and have a series-best 56-30 overall record against Army and Navy.
The teams had split the last two meetings, high-scoring affairs with the home team winning. Two years ago, Army won 41-21 at Michie Stadium, and last season Air Force topped the Black Knights 42-28 at Falcon Stadium.
This one was a defensive struggle.
Leading by just a field goal at halftime, Pearson hit Griffin over the middle on Air Force’s first possession of the second half, and he raced untouched into the end zone for a 13-3 lead. Stymied the entire first half, the Falcons had struck in just three plays that took 48 seconds after forcing Army into a three-and-out.
Pearson secured the victory with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Griffin midway through the fourth quarter. Pearson, who finished 8 of 12 for 141 yards and gained 41 yards rushing, also hit Colton Huntsman for 17 yards and Jalen Robinette for 29 on consecutive plays to set up Conant’s 26-yard field goal with 5:13 left on the clock before halftime.
Conant boosted the Air Force lead to 16-3 when he nailed a 50-yard field goal midway through the third.
Army managed just two field goals by Daniel Grochowski, 42 yards in the first quarter for a 3-0 lead and 46 yards in the third.
Air Force banks more on the pass than Army, and that edge was critical as neither team managed much on the ground. Army entered the game averaging nearly 320 yards, fourth in the nation, and finished with 122 yards on 38 carries.
Air Force wasn’t any better with 145 yards on 46 tries through three quarters, including 101 from Jacobi Owens, who finished with 118. The Falcons finished with 242 yards rushing on 62 carries.
Army’s Larry Dixon, averaging 97.6 yards per game and closing in on 3,000 career yards, finished with 13 yards on 10 carries. Quarterback Angel Santiago led the Black Knights with 33 yards on 14 carries and was just 2 of 11 for 20 yards passing.
Both teams were coming off a bye week, but the extra time to prepare didn’t help the offenses on a cold, raw day at Michie Stadium.
Army scored first, taking advantage of an Air Force turnover on the first possession of the game. Josh Jenkins intercepted Pearson near midfield on a third-and-8 play and returned it 31 yards to the Air Force 28 to set up Grochowski’s 42-yard field goal.
Air Force turned the ball over on downs on its next possession, failing on fourth down for just the sixth time in 14 tries this season.
After Santiago reversed field on a keeper and gained 32 yards deep into Air Force territory, the Falcons escaped further damage when Grochowski’s 41-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.
The game was played a week after the Gazette of Colorado Springs, a stone’s throw from the Air Force Academy, published a story about an Army recruiting excursion in January that featured underage drinking and led to minor NCAA infractions and the disciplining of 20 cadets, two officers and two coaches. Army coach Jeff Monken said it wasn’t a distraction.
By John Kekis, AP Writer
(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)