WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) — Army coach Jeff Monken made a beeline across the Michie Stadium turf for the Corps of Cadets, picked up a green folding chair and slammed it on the ground, a big smile creasing his face.
That the chair was green and Eastern Michigan’s school colors are green and white made for a poignant moment after Army’s 28-27 victory over the Eagles on Saturday.
A week after winning for the first time on the road, Army (5-2) kept its record perfect at home after four games.
“Every win is important. Every time you have a chance to get a victory it means something,” Monken said. “To be able to overcome adversity, that to me is really important. We were able to find a way to make a play.”
The play was by junior safety James Gibson. He atoned for a mistake moments earlier by making a game-saving tackle at the goal line on a two-point conversion attempt in the final minute. Quarterback Brogan Roback had moved the Eagles within a point with a pretty 8-yard fade to Sergio Bailey in the left corner of the end zone.
Then came the fateful decision.
“We needed to score, and we decided that … we would go for two,” EMU coach Chris Creighton said.
After two timeouts, Roback’s two-point conversion pass into the end zone was batted away by Army’s Mike Reynolds and the Black Knights jumped on one another in celebration. But Creighton had called his final timeout before the snap, giving the Eagles another chance.
“We were out there celebrating and all of a sudden the bubble is burst,” Monken said. “Our guys just regrouped.”
Gibson then foiled the two-point conversion on Roback’s pitch left to Ian Eriksen. Gibson dove low as Eriksen approached the goal line and sent him somersaulting up and forward, but his shoulders landed inches short.
“At that point it was just me and him. I didn’t know what happened,” Gibson said. “I knew I would have a chance to make the tackle and I got it.”
The gamble was understandable. Eastern Michigan (2-4) has lost four straight, and all have been one-possession games.
“There’s nobody excited about anything in our locker room right now,” Creighton said. “We’ve played six games, and five of them have essentially come down to the last play. We’ve won one, but we’ve been on the short end of the stick on the other ones. Our guys believe that we’re going to win, so these sting pretty good.”
Ahmad Bradshaw rushed for 171 yards and one touchdown and Darnell Woolfolk broke a fourth-quarter tie with a 13-yard run as Army’s triple option kept the ball for more than 37 minutes and racked up 413 yards rushing, depriving Roback of more chances.
Roback finished 19 of 27 for 229 yards and four touchdowns, while Bailey had eight catches for 99 yards and Eriksen finished with 107 yards rushing.
“They just bleed you for three or four yards, then get some chunk plays and go for it on fourth down,” Creighton said. “They’re a well-oiled machine.”
That was never more apparent than on the winning drive. Bradshaw guided the Black Knights 83 yards on 16 plays, converting a fourth-and-1 at midfield on a drive that took 8:59 off the clock in the fourth quarter. Bradshaw’s 13-yard run set up Woolfolk’s touchdown run with 5:06 left.
“Just grit and guys playing together,” Bradshaw said. “It was a great effort.”
On the Eagles’ last drive, Roback backpedaled against the Army rush and somehow completed a 17-yard pass to Jaron Johnson along the right side on a fourth-and-3 play. A pass interference call against Gibson gave the Eagles a first down at the Army 23 and four plays later Roback pulled the Eagles within a point with the pass to Bailey.
Eastern Michigan: The Eagles have to find a way to win the close ones. Five of their six games have been one-possession contests, and they’ve won just one (16-13 at Rutgers).
Army: The Black Knights rank last nationally in passing, but Monken said afterward that the ineffective passing game doesn’t matter as long as the Black Knights can run the ball. Three quarterbacks went 0 for 5 against the Eagles, the third game this season that Army did not complete a pass.
The Eagles had a touchdown pass nullified by a holding penalty in the third quarter and had to punt. Bradshaw, who posted his ninth 100-yard game and fourth this season, then broke a 69-yard run and Connor Slomka completed the drive with a 2-yard scoring run to put Army up 21-14.
Eastern Michigan: The Eagles host Western Michigan next Saturday on Homecoming.
Army: The Black Knights host Temple on Saturday.