By JOHN KEKIS
The Associated Press
It’s been almost a month since Army lost its fifth straight game. That narrow defeat to Air Force, however, is far in the rearview mirror.
Two convincing victories since have given the Black Knights (5-6) new life as they await the Universiy of Hawaii football team at Aloha Stadium tonight.
“It was good to get a couple of victories in a row for sure,” Army coach Jeff Monken said. “It was an agonizing month of October and beyond. Just to go through that stretch was frustrating and disappointing for everybody. Our guys were playing hard and I thought we were practicing well, it’s just we weren’t making enough plays to win games.
“It doesn’t diminish the sense of urgency for this game. It’s a big game for us and one that we really need to win to push ourselves closer to the team we want to be.”
Army’s triple option is averaging 302.6 rushing yards a game, up to third nationally. The totals, however, are due in large part to lopsided wins over struggling UMass (63-7) and VMI (47-6) in the past three weeks. The Black Knights totaled 1,092 yards rushing in those two games and now have 40 rushing scores, tied for first in the nation.
The Rainbow Warriors (8-4) have defeated Army three times in four meetings and have clinched the West Division of the Mountain West Conference for the first time. They’ll play No. 20 Boise State for the league title next week, but coach Nick Rolovich says his team is not looking past the Black Knights..
“We’ve got to take care of Army,” Rolovich said. “We know what kind of game that’s going to be.”
Hawaii defeated San Diego State 14-11 last Saturday to capture a share of the division title with the Aztecs, earning the berth in the title game due to its head-to-head win. Army is coming off a bye week, a blessing of sorts for injury-plagued quarterbacks Kelvin Hopkins Jr. and Jabari Laws.
“They know what we do,” said Hopkins, a senior who gained a career-high 208 yards rushing two weeks ago in relief of an injured Laws during the win over VMI at Michie Stadium. “They play Navy, they play Air Force, and in the past two years they’ve played all three of us, so they know what the option is like and they’re a really aggressive, athletic team.
“We’re just going to try to do our job and keep them (the Hawaii offense) off the field as much as possible.”
UH has won three straight and in the past two games has allowed only 18 points and an average of 276.5 yards of total offense. The Rainbow Warriors gave up 52 or more points in three of their losses.
“We just really needed to prove that we’re a good defense after giving up (so many) points in two or three games,” linebacker Solomon Matautia said. “It’s just a combination of everybody giving their best.”
Army’s defense has allowed just 13 points in the last two games, the first time the Black Knights have accomplished that since 1977 when they held Holy Cross to seven points and Air Force to six in consecutive games. Army is 11th nationally in passing defense (178.7) and 23rd in total defense (323.8). UH quarterback Cole McDonald is averaging 286.5 yards passing and has thrown for 26 TDs with 13 interceptions.
Air Force dominated the fourth quarter against Hawaii after the Rainbow Warriors pulled within nine points. The Falcons, second nationally in rushing (304.4), scored three straight touchdowns to win 56-26, finishing with 353 yards rushing and averaging 6.9 yards a carry to more than offset Hawaii’s 404 yards passing. Army lost 17-13 to the Falcons on the road, denied victory by a goal-line stand in the final minute.
Army lacks two victories to become bowl-eligible because two of its wins came against teams from the Championship Subdivision and only one of those can be counted toward the necessary six wins. The Black Knights finish the regular season against Navy in two weeks riding a three-game winning streak against the Midshipmen and can keep possession of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for a third straight year with a victory.
Home Sweet Home
Hawaii has won 14 of its last 15 regular-season, nonconference home games and is 9-1 in those games under Rolovich, its only loss coming against BYU in the season finale two years ago. The Rainbow Warriors are 2-0 against Army at Aloha Stadium, winning 59-28 in 2003 and 49-42 in 2013. The Black Knights won last year’s game at Michie Stadium, 28-21.