Chris Carnegie's interception at the end of the first half helped send Army into halftime with a 21-3 lead and the Black Knights held off a late Buffalo rally to claim a 47-39 season-opening victory on Saturday afternoon at Michie Stadium.
Army rushed for 342 yards and seven scores on the ground, and the defense intercepted three passes by Buffalo (1-1) quarterback Joe Licata as Army won its first game under head coach Jeff Monken. Larry Dixon led the rushing attack with 20 carries for a career-high 174 yards and two touchdowns. Terry Baggett had 74 yards on six carries, including a 41-yard score, while Tony Giovannelli, Angel Santiago, Raymond Maples and Matt Giachinta each reached the end zone.
Through the air, Santiago was 6-for-6 for 96 yards and A.J. Schurr had one completion for 29 yards. It was the first time since Oct. 1, 2011 Army did not throw an incomplete pass in a game.
Although Licata was intercepted three times, he did throw five second-half touchdown passes and accounted for 396 yards as Buffalo attempted to get back in the game after falling behind 47-17 early in the fourth quarter. Licata completed 34 of his 49 pass attempts, six to his favorite target Marcus McGill, who totaled 123 yards and two touchdowns.
A fumble by Santiago on the second play of the game led to a quick three points by Buffalo on its opening drive after it took the ball in Army territory. Patrick Clark's kick was successful and proved to be Buffalo's only points of the first half.
Consecutive procedure penalties early in Army's ensuing drive had the offense in a third-and-14 from its own 21-yard line. Santiago faked a handoff to the left side before spinning and finding Raymond Maples wide open out of the backfield on the opposite side of the field. The 30-yard gain set up Army with a first down near midfield. Another pivotal moment in the drive came on fourth-and-one from the Buffalo 30-yard line, when Santiago picked up a first down on a run off the right side. Two plays later, Dixon scampered 23 yards to paydirt and Army led 7-3 after Daniel Grochowski's extra point.
Buffalo drove down into the red zone on its next possession, but the Army defense held and Clark's 35-yard field goal sailed wide right to keep the score at 7-3 early in the second quarter.
Santiago engineered another scoring drive that included runs by Giovanelli (18 yards), Baggett (27 yards) and another wide open pass completion to Maples (39 yards). Maples' catch and run came on third-and-six from the Buffalo 46-yard line and set Army up with a first-and-goal. Giovanelli finished off the drive with a four-yard score and Army held a 14-3 lead with 4:15 to play in the half. Army converted five times in 11 third down situations and was 3-for-3 on fourth down.
Each team punted and Buffalo took over with 1:05 to play from its own one after a 47-yard boot from Alex Tardieu. Licata tossed an 11-yard pass to Devon Hughes on first down, but two plays later Carnegie picked Licata off with 34 seconds left in the half and Army had a first-and-goal from the eight. Maples punched in a six-yard run to send Army into halftime with a 21-3 lead.
Army extended its advantage to 28-3 midway through the third quarter on Dixon's second touchdown of the game. The 45-yard run pushed Dixon over the 100-yard mark for the eighth time in his career, tying him for eighth in academy history in 100-yard games.
Devon Hughes' 20-yard reception with 4:17 to play in the third quarter gave Buffalo its first touchdown of the afternoon, but Army answered 47 seconds later to reclaim its three-score cushion. On the second play after an unsuccessful surprise onside kick attempt, Baggett broke through the heart of the Buffalo defense and ran 41 yards for the score. Grochowski's extra point was blocked and Army led 34-10.
The third quarter ended after a 65-yard strike from Licata to McGill down the far sideline, but Army continued to run the football and scored twice early in the second half. Santiago and Giachinta each ran in from four yards out and Army looked like it was in complete control with a 30-point lead and 11:10 remaining.
As the rain came down at Michie Stadium, Buffalo refused to go away. The Bulls took advantage of an onside kick recovery and an Army fumble to pull within eight points with 2:25 remaining. Schurr came down with the next onside kick attempt, but Army failed to get a first down and was forced to punt with a minute to play. On fourth-and-three from its own 32 yard line, Buffalo's Anthone Taylor was stopped short of the first down marker by Andrew King and Army held on for the 47-39 victory.
Army plays the first of three straight road games at No. 13 Stanford next Saturday at 5 p.m. ET.