Army QB Christian Anderson can revel with biggest win on his resume
By KEN MCMILLAN | The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y. | Published: December 21, 2020
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — The Commander-in-Chief's Trophy weighs 170 pounds, and while members of the Army football team could probably bench press the prize, it's always best to share it with friends.
Quarterback Christian Anderson was asked if he got to carry it following Saturday's stirring 10-7 win over Air Force.
"Yes, sir, I did. Yes, sir," said Anderson, unable to restrain the burgeoning grin from his unmasked spotlight moment.
Anderson had already received a huge ovation from his teammates in the post-game locker room celebration, and he had time to pose with the imposing trophy, surrounded by his loving brotherhood.
The applause was not just for what Anderson had just done, guiding the Black Knights on an 80-yard, game-winning drive against their arch rivals. It was for his perseverance after losing his starting job to early season injuries, the ignominy of losing it again to a younger friend in their small circle of the quarterback's room, and then being called upon when the team needed him most.
Tyhier Tyler started Army's last three games, though Anderson was healthy to play. Anderson didn't mention it on Saturday, the fact that he still had the 2019 loss to Navy still hanging heavy on his head and heart, surely disappointed he was uncalled upon last week for an opportunity to wipe away the personal setback and stain on his record.
But Anderson is like every other cadet at West Point, showing character in his willingness to provide leadership to his football brethren and waiting for his leaders, namely the coaching staff, to call upon his services once again.
That time came in the first half on Saturday. Anderson relieved Tyler briefly in the first quarter as the latter had his blood-stained face tended to by trainers. The job became permanent midway through the second quarter when Tyler was viciously hit in a helmet clash with an Air Force defender, sent crashing face down into the Michie Stadium turf. It was not how Anderson wanted to take back the job but it fit in so well with Army's next-man-up mentality, which has been pushed to its limits this season.
"The coaches have a lot of trust in me," Anderson said. "Obviously, I played some games before. My teammates, they all trust me as well and they told me that they knew I'd do a good job. I just wanted to make sure I played as well as I could for them, for the guys that couldn't play today, especially for TT."
"I really had no doubts that Christian was going to go in there and pick up where TT left off, you know, be the field general and guide the offense down the field," said fullback Jakobi Buchanan, who also shouldered a heavier burden when several of his position mates who were ruled out of action.
It wasn't an immediate rags to riches transition. Four full series came and went, three of them stalling as Army barely reached into Air Force territory. The Falcons went for the kill shot, but Army's Jabari Moore made the most important interception of the year on a 40-yard throw into the end zone.
Army's triple option offense is not designed as a quick-strike offense, but 8 minutes and 24 seconds on the clock and 80 yards to cover does not often intimidate the Black Knights, who trailed 7-3.
Anderson wiped away Army's lone penalty with a great 16-yard run off the right side, into Falcon territory. Stopped on two short-gainers and facing a fourth-down-and 4 call, Anderson looked for a receiver deep, decided against the throw and raced around the right end, behind Buchanan, for 7 yards as the clock ticked under three minutes. He then gained 6 on a keeper to the left, down to the Air Force 10 with two minutes left.
"It was like a dream, just watching the march down the field," Moore said.
It was crunch time. Buchanan went for 5 up the middle. Tyson Riley got a dive for 2. Buchanan — known as the Human Wrecking Ball — was halted for 1 on consecutive plays off the left side. One yard remained on fourth down.
"We knew it was just going to be a fullback dive, straight, give it to Jakobi," Anderson said. "I told him he better get in the end zone before we called it. I told the line that we just need one yard. We just need everybody to finish in the end zone."
Anderson took the snap, the right side of the offensive line got the surge it needed and Buchanan barged in for the score.
Final: Army 10, Air Force 7.
"I'm really proud of him," coach Jeff Monken said. "To be thrown into the game, not as a starter beginning the season, not in as the starter in the two biggest games of the year, to go in there and to perform like he did and take care of the ball and lead us on that final drive, I'm just so happy for him and his family."
Like Tyler a week earlier to cap the 15-0 Navy win, Anderson took the final kneel down in Victory Formation, and likely overshadowed that 2019 Navy defeat.
Anderson admits he was "really emotional" after the game, struggling to keep his emotions in check.
"The way we won that game ... it was really hard to describe the feelings that I felt after the game," Anderson said. "I was just really proud of the whole team and how we bounced back on that last drive. It was really a magical experience."
Tyler could be back in the lineup for Army's Independence Bowl game on Saturday, or the coaches may return to Anderson. Either way, Anderson proved himself worthy of the role and got the big win he's been destined to lead.
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