By STEPHEN HAWKINS
The Associated Press
FORT WORTH, Texas — During a 10-loss season three years ago, Army coach Jeff Monken saw something that made him believe the Black Knights were on the way to being a good team.
The freshmen from that team are now seniors going into their last game — today against Houston (8-4) in the Armed Forces Bowl, when the No. 22 Black Knights will try to complete the program’s first 11-win season.
“Didn’t have a great start to their careers,” Monken said. “But for them to experience 10 losses, seven of them being by a touchdown or less, and they would just continue to come back each week and battle and fight to the end. I saw a fight in that team that encouraged me.”
Two weeks after beating Navy for the third year in a row , Army (10-2) is playing in a bowl for the third consecutive season. The cadets have their second 10-win season in a row, and an eight-game winning streak since an overtime loss at Oklahoma on Sept. 22.
Fullback Darnell Woolfolk described that as “such a big disappointment” and said it made them determined not to lose again.
“That definitely let us know that we could play with anyone,” linebacker Cole Christiansen said.
Houston, without injured quarterback D’Eriq King and NFL draft-prepping defensive tackle Ed Oliver, has lost three of its four games since a 7-1 start.
“For us, it’s just about finishing strong with one game,” second-year Cougars coach Major Applewhite said.
∫ NO ED OR D’ERIQ: King was responsible for 302 points (50 total touchdowns, a 2-point conversion) in 11 games before season-ending knee surgery. The quarterback has another season left with the Cougars. Oliver had made it known long ago that his junior season would be his last. He missed four games because of a bruised right knee and is skipping the bowl game to focus on preparing for the NFL draft.
∫ LOT OF OFFENSE: Houston ranks fourth nationally with 46 points a game, and sixth with 529 total yards per game. The Cougars opened the season with eight consecutive 40-point games, a school record. Only Houston and Oklahoma rank in the top 25 for both passing offense and rushing offense. Ten different Houston players have had TD catches, and eight different players have run for scores.
∫ EXTRA POINTS: Army leads the nation in time of possession, at nearly 39 minutes a game. Houston is last among the 129 FBS teams at 25:04. … The last two Armed Forces have been decided in the final seconds. Last year, Army got the go-ahead touchdown to beat San Diego State with 18 seconds left, then returned a fumble for a score as time expired for a 42-35 win. Two years ago, Louisiana Tech kicked a field goal on the last play to beat Navy 48-45. … Army or Houston will become the first three-time winner of the Armed Forces Bowl, now in its 16th year. Army has won both of its previous appearances. Houston is 2-2 in the game. California is the only two-time winner.
∫ FINAL EXAMS: Army players got a week off after the Navy game to prepare for final exams. Monken said the final day of exams at West Point was Friday, but the players took all their tests last weekend. Christiansen said he had five exams within about 36 hours. “Very intense,” he said.
∫ HOLDING ON: The Army offense has lost only eight fumbles in 1,710 plays over the past two seasons. The Black Knights have only four lost fumbles this year, and two of those came in the season opener at Duke. Houston’s defense has forced turnovers in 16 consecutive games — only two teams have longer active streaks.