DENVER (AP) — Army wrecked No. 17 Air Force's perfect season — and then some.
Nothing like beating a rival to salvage — or jump-start — a season that hasn’t gone according to plan for the Black Knights.
Quarterback Bryson Daily ran for 170 yards and two touchdowns, Army's swarming defense forced six turnovers and the Black Knights knocked Air Force from the list of undefeated teams with a 23-3 win on Saturday.
Daily and the Black Knights entered as an 18 1/2-point underdog, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. But they quickly set the tone with a dominant opening half in which they led 23-3. A stunned and staggered Falcons team never got on track in front of 52,401 fans at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver.
“We kind of were overlooked for sure,” Army linebacker Leo Lowin said. “We haven’t had a great season. We saw this as a huge opportunity to turn that around, turn that in our favor."
The mistake-prone Falcons (8-1) had four fumbles, threw two interceptions, missed a 32-yard field goal and turned the ball over twice on downs as their best start since 1985 came to a halt. They entered the day as one of eight undefeated major college football teams.
“We had high expectations to come out here and win this game and we didn’t. So we’re very disappointed,” said Air Force tailback John Lee Eldridge III, whose team was held without a touchdown for the first time since Nov. 4, 2017, against Army. “We just didn’t go out there and execute on the small things like we usually do.”
Army (3-6) snapped a five-game skid and moved into the driver’s seat to hoist the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. The Black Knights need to beat Navy on Dec. 9 to claim the prize in the annual round-robin competition between the service academies. Air Force can retain the trophy if Army loses to the Midshipmen.
The CIC Trophy outright winner earns a trip to the White House and of course bragging rights.
Daily set the tone early with a 62-yard TD run less than two minutes into the game. He's been banged up but carried the ball 36 times.
“He’s just a tough kid,” Army coach Jeff Monken said. “You could hit him with a sledgehammer 36 times and he’ll get back up and he’ll go again. ... That’s just who he is.”
Lowin led a menacing defensive performance with 12 tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. The Black Knights were constantly pressuring Air Force quarterback Zac Larrier.
The senior Larrier turned the ball over four times, including twice being picked off by cornerback Bo Nicolas-Paul. Larrier lost for the first time as a starter after tying the program mark for a QB by going 8-0.
The Falcons never got their nation-leading ground game churning. Air Force was held to 155 yards rushing, which is about 145 yards below the team's season average.
“We’re familiar with Air Force, we know what to expect from them,” Lowin said. “It just put us in a position to play as hard as you can.”
A second-half team all season, the Falcons felt if they could just march down the field soon after halftime, it could turn the momentum. They did, too, but missed a field goal midway through the third quarter.
“We’ve had a pretty good go of it for a while and yet you realize how hard it is to win,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “Credit to Army — played really hard, played really well."