Army holds off Rice 14-7
By JOHN KEKIS
AP Sports Writer
WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) - Kelvin Hopkins Jr. hit Kell Walker with a 17-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter, and Army held off Rice 14-7 on Friday night at Michie Stadium.
The Black Knights have won 14 straight games at home and 10 straight overall, the second longest active winning streak in college football, behind only national champion Clemson.
A false start on third down pushed the ball back to a third-and-8 at the 17 before Hopkins found Walker all alone on the left side near the goal line with 3:58 left in the game.
Army converted five third downs on the 18-play, game-winning drive, a typical one for the Black Knights that took over 9 minutes and left the Owls in a hole they couldn't climb out of in the season opener for both teams. The Owls' last gasp was a sideline pass on fourth down by Wiley Green that fell incomplete at the Army 15 with seconds to play.
Hopkins, who last year became the first player in academy history to run for 1,000 yards and pass for 1,000 yards in a season, had a subpar game until then without standout center Bryce Holland and a new backfield behind him. He finished with 80 yards rushing on 21 carries and was 3 of 8 passing for 53 yards.
Army, which finished last season ranked No. 19, lost a key part of its offense to graduation with the departure of fullbacks Darnell Woolfolk and Andy Davidson. Woolfolk was the workhorse, accounting for 956 yards and 14 TDs. Senior Connor Slomka (74 carries for 324 yards, 4.4 average and five TDs) and junior Sandon McCoy (16-65, 4.1) were being counted on to carry much of the load this season, but Slomka has been hobbled by an undisclosed injury and did not play, and the offense struggled much of the game.
The Owls, who started preparing for this game in the spring, held the Black Knights in check in the first half, limiting them to 120 yards on 30 plays, 103 of it on the ground on 27 carries, a 3.8-yard average. Last season, Army averaged 4.9 yards per carry, ranked second nationally with 312 yards per game, and won a school-record 11 games with its ball-control offense and a stingy defense that allowed 295.5 yards per game, eighth in the nation.
Hopkins gave the Black Knights a 7-0 lead on a 2-yard run midway through the second quarter, and big plays set up the score in a typical Army drive that took 16 plays and lasted nearly 10 minutes. After Army converted twice on third down and once on fourth, wide receiver Christian Hayes ran a reverse right for 35 yards on a third-and-9 play. One play later Hopkins hit Hayes again, this time along the left side for 17 yards to set up the score.
Rice tailback Nahshon Ellerbe, who missed almost all of last year with a knee injury, tied it at 7-7 with a 54-yard touchdown run on the Owls' next possession.
Ellerbe finished with 103 yards rushing on nine carries and Aston Walker had 72 yards rushing on 18 carries.
POOR FIELD POSITION
Army started three drives inside its own 10-yard line.
Rice place-kicker Will Harrison missed field goals of 26 and 44 yards.
NO TURNOVERS, PLEASE
Last year Army lost only five fumbles in over 900 plays, but the Black Knights were bitten once in this one. McCoy had a nice gain up the middle into Rice territory late in the third quarter, but defensive lineman Elijah Garcia stripped the ball and linebacker Blaze Alldredge recovered for the Owls.The Army defense forced a punt.
Last season, Army led the nation in conversions on third down (112 of 196, 57% success rate) and fourth down (31 of 36, 86, coach Jeff Monken's mantra as a gambling man. Without its powerhouse backfield from last year, Army sputtered early. The Black Knights, at their own 15-yard line, were held for no gain on third and fourth downs on their first possession of the game, needing just a yard to convert. But they escaped when Rice kicker Will Harrison shanked a 26-yard field goal attempt.
Rice: The Owls were 2-11 last season, the first under coach Mike Bloomgren, who used a slew of freshmen and redshirt freshmen to build experience into his system. He also added seven graduate transfers to the roster with a total of 202 games of college experience and 144 wins. That should help the Owls improve going forward.
Army: The Black Knights lost a lot in the run game, and Monken had little experience in the backfield with the 240-pound Slomka out. McCoy, who gained 70 yards on 20 carries, will have to continue to pick up the slack.
Rice: Owls host Atlantic Coast Conference foe Wake Forest next Friday night.
Army: Black Knights are at Michigan on Saturday, Sept. 7.
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