WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) — Darnell Woolfolk ran for 98 yards and two touchdowns as Army’s triple option began to return to form with 449 yards rushing, and the Black Knights beat Bowl Subdivision newcomer Liberty 38-14 on Saturday.
Calen Holt scored on a 25-yard run and Woolfolk followed with a 26-yard scamper, both coming in the waning moments of the first quarter, and the defense stymied the Flames the entire first half as Army (1-1) built a commanding 17-point lead. The Flames (1-1) were playing their first road game as a full-fledged FBS member.
Army’s offensive line is a work in progress — the Black Knights lost four starters from last year’s 10-win team, with only center Bryce Holland returning. In last week’s season-opening loss at Duke, Army rushed for only 168 yards — less than half its average last year when it led the nation in rushing with 362.2 yards a game.
That changed against Liberty.
Army outgained Liberty 195-46 in the first half, all of the yardage on the ground, and averaged 6.1 yards per carry for the game. Landon Salyers converted a 42-yard field goal as time expired for a 17-0 halftime lead.
After Kelvin Hopkins Jr. hit Christian Hayes for a 44-yard touchdown early in the third to give Army a 24-0 lead, the Flames finally awoke. Kentory Matthews broke a 50-yard run and Stephen Calvert hit Damian King for a 28-yard TD in a span of just 28 seconds.
Liberty scored again late in the period on Calvert’s 28-yard scoring pass to B.J. Farrow, who outdueled a defender in the back left corner of the end zone, but the Flames couldn’t keep it going.
The Black Knights put the game out of reach on Woolfolk’s second touchdown early in the fourth. Connor Slomka added a 2-yard score midway through the period.
Army had eight players gain at least 10 yards rushing. Fred Cooper had 81 and Holt finished with 72.
Liberty: The Flames have proven they can beat top-tier teams with their win at Baylor last year. Quarterback Stephen Calvert was stellar in last week’s 52-10 win over Old Dominion and has an elite receiver in 6-foot-4 Antonio Gandy-Golden, who led the Big South last year with 1,066 yards. Calvert showed signs of the offense’s capability but needs to be able to sustain it. Calvert finished 19 of 37 for 307 yards and two TDs with one interception and Matthews finished with 81 yards rushing on nine carries. With Army’s Elijah Riley in his face all afternoon, Gandy-Golden was held to just three catches for 33 yards.
Army: The Black Knights showed some muscle on the ground and with an array of backs should be able to keep the ground game churning.
Last year the Black Knights fumbled only seven times in 13 games, losing five. In last week’s loss at Duke, they fumbled five times and lost two of them. That prompted coach Jeff Monken to focus hard on ball security during practice leading up to Saturday’s game. Players were given bats with boxing gloves taped to the ends, and they swatted teammates carrying balls during agility drills. Army had zero turnovers Saturday and recovered a fumble in the first quarter.
Monken lamented the new NCAA rules regarding blocking during his weekly press conference and was concerned about their potential effect on his option attack. It didn’t take long to raise Monken’s ire on Saturday. Army had a 41-yard touchdown run in the first quarter by Hopkins nullified by an illegal block, one of three chop blocks assessed against the Black Knights in the first half. Hopkins also had a 27-yard run deep into Liberty territory nullified late in the second quarter. The NCAA football rules committee eliminated all blocks below the waist if they take place more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage and also clarified blocks below the waist.
Liberty redshirt freshman punter Aidan Alves was ejected for targeting on a helmet-to-helmet hit after a 22-yard punt return by Army’s Mike Reynolds. Aaron Peart assumed the punting duties for the Flames and his first kick went just 15 yards midway through the second quarter. Liberty’s Austin Lewis also was ejected for targeting in the fourth quarter.
Liberty hosts Norfolk State next Saturday night.
Army hosts Hawaii next Saturday.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25