DALLAS » Second-year coach Rich Ellerson already has a season to cherish at Army. Josh McNary and 24 other seniors get to leave on a winning note.
McNary scooped up a fumble and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown and Army held on to beat SMU 16-14 in the Armed Forces Bowl yesterday, giving the Black Knights their first winning season since 1996.
"This senior class and this football team has earned a place in that pantheon of great Army football teams," Ellerson said. "They’ve brought something back to West Point that has been absent. It will flourish there because of the culture these guys have created."
The game was a battle of former University of Hawaii players and coaches. SMU’s June Jones was a player and an assistant coach and coached the team from 1999 to 2007. Ellerson was UH’s starting center in the 1970s, played in UH’s first game in Aloha Stadium, and also was an assistant for the Rainbows.
When Ellerson was hired, Army (7-6) was coming off three consecutive 3-9 seasons and had won only 30 games since its 1996 Independence Bowl appearance that was the last winning season — until now.
The Black Knights led 16-0 at halftime on SMU’s home field, then ran out the game’s final 4 minutes after Matt Szymanski was wide left on a 47-yard field-goal attempt that would have put the Mustangs (7-7) ahead.
After quarterback Trent Steelman converted a pair of third downs, Ellerson was doused with the contents of a water cooler and the Black Knights celebrated a long-awaited victory.
"We had a great prep school class. We weren’t going into a very successful program," said senior linebacker Stephen Anderson, voted Army’s player of the game after 14 tackles, an interception and a sack. "We sat everybody down and said, ‘Look, we have the team that can bring winning football back to West Point.’ "
It was only the fifth bowl game for the Black Knights, who hadn’t won a postseason game since the 1985 Peach Bowl.
SMU, with only four seniors among its 22 starters, still hasn’t had consecutive winning seasons since resuming play in 1989 after being the only team ever given the NCAA’s so-called death penalty.
ARMED FORCES BOWL
ARMY 16, SMU 14
Army–McNary 55 fumble return (Carlton kick)
Army–M.Brown 13 run (kick blocked)
Army–FG Carlton 44
SMU–A.Robinson 8 pass from Padron (Szymanski kick)
SMU–D.Johnson 28 pass from Padron (Szymanski kick)
RUSHING–Army, Hassin 18-82, Mealy 11-57, M.Brown 5-31, Steelman 10-27, Cobbs 2-11, Team 1-0, Maples 2-(minus 2), Brooks 1-(minus 7). SMU, Line 17-103, Szymanski 1-18, Padron 8-(minus 10).
PASSING–Army, Steelman 2-7-0-30. SMU, Padron 23-34-2-302.
RECEIVING–Army, Brooks 2-30. SMU, D.Johnson 9-152, A.Robinson 5-76, Holman 3-36, Beasley 3-24, Line 2-5, Haynes 1-9.
Meineke Bowl, Charlotte, N.C.
Clemson (6-6) vs. South Florida (7-5), 7 a.m. (ESPN)
Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas
Notre Dame (7-5) vs. Miami (7-5), 9 a.m. (CBS)
Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn.
Georgia (6-6) vs. UCF (10-3), 10:30 a.m. (ESPN)
Chick-fil-A Bowl, Atlanta
South Carolina (9-4) vs. Florida State (9-4), 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)
TicketCity Bowl, Dallas
Northwestern (7-5) vs. Texas Tech (7-5), 7 a.m. (ESPNU)
Capital One Bowl, Orlando, Fla.
Michigan State (11-1) vs. Alabama (9-3), 8 a.m. (ESPN)
Outback Bowl, Tampa, Fla.
Florida (7-5) vs. Penn State (7-5), 8 a.m. (ABC)
Gator Bowl, Jacksonville, Fla.
Michigan (7-5) vs. Mississippi State (8-4), 8:30 a.m. (ESPN2)
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
TCU (12-0) vs. Wisconsin (11-1), noon (ESPN)
Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Ariz.
Connecticut (8-4) vs. Oklahoma (11-2), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Orange Bowl, Miami
Stanford (11-1) vs. Virginia Tech (11-2), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Sugar Bowl, New Orleans
Ohio State (11-1) vs. Arkansas (10-2), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
GoDaddy.com Bowl, Mobile, Ala.
Miami (Ohio) (9-4) vs. Middle Tennessee (6-6), 3 p.m. (ESPN)
Cotton Bowl, Arlington, Texas
Texas A&M (9-3) vs. LSU (10-2), 3 p.m. (FOX)
BBVA Compass Bowl, Birmingham, Ala.
Pittsburgh (7-5) vs. Kentucky (6-6), 7 a.m. (ESPN)
Fight Hunger Bowl, San Francisco
Boston College (7-5) vs. Nevada (12-1), 4 p.m. (ESPN)
BCS National Championship
At Glendale, Ariz.
Auburn (13-0) vs. Oregon (12-0), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)