WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) — Jet lag never felt so good for the San José State Spartans.
Josh Love passed for 314 yards and three touchdowns, Matt Mercurio kicked four field goals, and San José State stunned Army 34-29 on Saturday, handing the Black Knights (3-5) their second straight loss at Michie Stadium and fourth straight overall.
“This is an incredible win for our team,” Spartans coach Brent Brennan said. “Coming on the road like this with such long travel for an early game, we woke our kids up at 4 a.m. West Coast time for pregame meal and to get everyone started and they handled it incredibly well. We are really excited about this and we are going to enjoy it.”
San José State (4-4) was coming off a 27-17 homecoming loss to San Diego State, its second straight setback, but the Spartans managed to do something they haven’t done in four years — win twice in a season on the road. San José State scored on all five of its first-half possessions, the first time that’s happened this season, and when the Spartans were stopped Mercurio made sure they came away with points, hitting from 30, 23, 38 and 28 yards, one of them after Army lost a fumble. The game featured just two punts, one by each team.
“For us, any win is a big thing,” Brennan said. “We’re trying to build this program. Any time we can play good football consistently and find a way to win is a huge step for us. Everybody is so invested and when you don’t get the result you want, it’s hard.”
The San José defense swarmed the Army quarterbacks, notching six tackles for loss, five of them sacks. The Black Knights, with their ground-oriented triple option, entered the game having allowed just six sacks.
“I thought getting to the quarterback and the tackles for loss were huge because it put them behind the sticks, which is where they don’t want to be,” Brennan said. “A lot of pieces went into that, and I thought we had a good scheme and a good plan.”
Love, who was not sacked and rarely was pressured, finished 20 of 31 to eight different receivers with zero turnovers for the Spartans, who were beaten 52-3 at home last year by Army in the first meeting between the teams.
Army coach Jeff Monken alternated senior Kelvin Hopkins Jr. and sophomore Jabari Laws at quarterback in the first half and both were eventually knocked out of the game with injuries. Laws left in the second quarter and Hopkins in the third in favor of Christian Anderson. Hopkins did hit Cam Harrison for a 31-yard touchdown in the first half.
“It just seemed like we were playing catch-up the whole game,” Monken said. “They scored just about every time they had it. We’ve got to get them off the field. We didn’t finish drives. When you turn the ball over and the other team doesn’t, your chances go way down.”
The Black Knights moved within 23-17 on the first possession of the second half, with Sandon McCoy scoring on a 4-yard run on the first play after Hopkins was hurt. It was the only score of third quarter as Army forced the Spartans to punt.
Love hit Bailey Gaither for a spectacular 21-yard touchdown in the first minute of the fourth quarter to give the Spartans 31-17 lead. With the arms of Army defender Javhari Bourdeau wrapped around him, Gaither reached his arms around Bourdeau’s shoulders, the ball deflected up off Gaither’s facemask as the two fell to the turf and he cradled the ball on his knees barely inbounds.
Army rallied again behind Anderson. Malik Hancock took a pitch right 28 yards to set up Anderson’s 1-yard run to close the gap to eight midway through the final quarter. After Mercurio’s fourth field goal, Anderson’s 31-yard touchdown run with 31 seconds left gave Army one last chance, but the onside kick sailed out of bounds.
San José State: The road win at a difficult place should give the Spartans a jolt of confidence. They won at Arkansas (31-24) last month for their first road victory of the season.
“We’re excited for the rest of the season,” defensive end Cade Hall said. “That’s the only thing on our minds.”
Army: The Black Knights gained 326 yards rushing but on defense were bitten often by long gains in the passing game. On the game’s first drive, Love completed 5 of 7 passes for 87 yards and a touchdown, completing throws of 23, 20, 12, and 13 yards before hitting Isaiah Hamilton for a 19-yard score on a third-and-7 play. Love also completed a 50-yard pass to Hamilton on a third-and-10 play to set up a field goal early in the second quarter. Gambling didn’t work, either, for the Black Knights. Hopkins was sacked on a fourth-and-6 play midway through the second quarter. With injuries to key players on defense — standout free safety Jaylon McClinton didn’t play — and the offense not performing at a high level with injuries at quarterback, Army has a lot of things to fix as it gets set to begin defense of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. There was no immediate word on the injuries.
San José State: Hosts No. 22 Boise State next Saturday night.
Army: Begins defense of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy it’s held for the past two years when it travels to Air Force next Saturday.
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