PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Army had its biggest win since 1972 within its grasp and handed it away.
Despite limiting No. 24 Rutgers to 252 total yards, the Black Knights made three crucial mistakes in the final nine minutes and dropped a 28-7 decision Saturday.
It was a tie game in the fourth quarter before Army (2-8) made two miscues on punts and lost a fumble that helped put the Scarlet Knights in control.
"Obviously, the kicking game was a disaster," Army coach Rich Ellerson said. "The fourth quarter turned into a bit of a clown act. It's the finishing edge that has to be in place. We did the hard things that put us in good position, but we weren't able to do the routine. The easier things, we were unable to do."
Duron Harmon's 73-yard fumble return for a touchdown with 40 seconds left for the Scarlet Knights (8-1) capped their ninth straight triumph over Army (2-8).
"This is the best our defense played all year," Army strong safety Josh Jackson said. "People want to say we played our best game against Air Force (41-21 last week), but this is the best we played all year. From the start to the finish, we did our thing. There were so many chances we had that we didn't capitalize on."
Jackson was referring to the offense, which ran 85 plays and gained 337 yards. Three fumbles, two blocked field goals and a bad snap, all helped Rutgers nullify the stellar defense displayed by Army.
Quarterback Trent Steelman's 1-yard keeper in the first quarter staked Army to a 7-0 lead, but the miscues offensively never let the Black Knights build on its lead. Steelman, who rushed for 102 yards on 26 carries, to put him at 1,013 running yards for the season, fumbled to snuff out one drive. His pass 13-yard pass hit Chevaughn Lawrence in the hands, but he couldn't hold onto the ball in the waning seconds of the first half.
Steelman is the 16th Army player to run for 1,000 yards in a season and is poised to break the Black Knights' record for a quarterback of 1,078 yards set by Tory Crawford in 1986.
"Honestly, I thought (Lawrence) came down with it," Steelman said after Army missed a chance to knock off a ranked team for the first time since 1972. "I guess when he hit the ground it came out. Bottom line is that we didn't cash in on our opportunities."
On the next play after the incompletion to Lawrence, Dan Grochowski's low kick for a 30-yard field goal was blocked by Lorenzo Waters of Rutgers with 24 seconds left before the break.
Army never could get going in the second half as the Scarlet Knights learned how to defend the triple option.
Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said he expected Army to give Rutgers all it could handle, downplaying the idea that Rutgers escaped with a win.
"I think if you say that, you're not giving them the credit they deserve," Flood said. "If you put the film on and watch them game in and game out, Coach Ellerson has a really good football team. And as he has said, their record doesn't reflect that. They're difficult to play against, and we worked really hard for that win today
Brandon Coleman caught his second touchdown of the game on a 31-yard pass from Gary Nova with 8:49 to play for the game-winning score as the Scarlet Knights bounced back from their first loss and a two-week layoff that featured Hurricane Sandy and a Nor'easter that dumped a foot of snow in New Jersey.
Rutgers also got a 2-yard touchdown run from Savon Huggins with 6:28 left.
Coleman caught a 16-yard touchdown pass in the first half on a halfback option by Jawan Jamison, while weakside linebacker Khaseem Greene had 22 tackles and a forced fumble, his sixth of the season.
Rutgers kept the Black Knights off the board after Steelman's TD with its No. 4 ranked run defense limiting the nation's No. 1 ground game (375.44 yards) to 282 yards, including 86 in the second half.
The game was tied 7-7 with less than 11 minutes to play when Army self-destructed.
Punter Chris Boldt made the first mistake, shanking his kick 9 yards to the Army 45.. Nova capped the four-play drive finding Coleman in the right corner of the end zone.
Marcus Cooper blocked a 43-yard field goal attempt by Grochowski.