Piscataway, NJ – Brandon Coleman caught two touchdown passes and No.24 Rutgers held off Army, 28-7, Saturday in Piscataway.
Coleman caught Rutgers' first score on an option pass from Jawan Jamison and later hauled in the go-ahead touchdown from Gary Nova in the fourth quarter. He finished with three catches for 53 yards for the Scarlet Knights (8-1), who now stand alone atop the Big East after Syracuse shocked No.11 Louisville on Saturday.
Nova completed an efficient 14-of-17 passes for 123 yards and had just one interception after throwing six in a loss to Kent State two weeks ago. Coming off a bye, Jamison rushed for 90 yards on 22 carries for Rutgers, which defeated Army for the ninth straight time.
Army had success running its triple-option offense, rushing for 281 yards on the nation's fourth-ranked rushing defense, but was plagued by turnovers and missed opportunities throughout.
Trent Steelman rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries, Larry Dixon ran six times for 81 yards and Raymond Maples finished with 58 yards on 13 touches for Army (2-8), which was coming off a win against Air Force.
The Black Knights moved the ball down the field for most of the day, but the Scarlet Knights got enormous play out of their defense and special teams when they needed it most, blocking two field goals and recovering three fumbles all inside Rutgers' territory.
Army scored its only points on its first possession of the game. After converting on third down five times and once on fourth down, Army used up nearly seven minutes on a 16-play opening drive which Steelman capped with a 1-yard touchdown rush.
Set up by a Dixon 26-yard scamper on 3rd-and-5, the Black Knights had a 1st- and-goal at the Rutgers 6. Three plays later, Steelman ran the option to his right, spun off a tackler and fell across the goal line to give Army the early 7-0 lead.
A pair of long runs by Dixon and Chevaughn Lawrence on the Black Knights' next touch put them in field goal range for Dan Grochowski. However, his 43-yard attempt was blocked by Marcus Cooper, who got around the line and put a hand on it to keep it a one-score game.
Rutgers quickly capitalized off the big special teams play, thanks in large part to Jamison.
After a series of running plays, Rutgers faced 4th-and-1 when Jamison took a handoff up the middle for four yards to give the Scarlet Knights a new set of downs. On the next play, Jamison took a toss to his right and lobbed a pass to end the zone for Coleman, who made a move around a defender to make the 16- yard catch and even the score at 7-7 for Rutgers with 11:51 to play in the second quarter.
Steelman rushed for 29 yards on the ensuing Army possession -- converting a 3rd-and-8 and then a 4th-and-1 with his feet -- but was the culprit of a costly fumble. A facemask penalty on Rutgers' Khaseem Greene put Army at the Scarlet Knights' 13, but Steelman lost the football on the next play and Ryan Logan of Rutgers recovered and ran it back 18 yards.
However, Rutgers went three-and-out following the turnover and punted back to Army.
Following a Josh Jackson 34-yard return, Army took over at midfield, but again was denied on a scoring opportunity.
The Black Knights converted again on fourth down, as Steelman found Malcolm Brown for a 16-yard gain inside the Rutgers 20. Then on 3rd-and-7, Steelman fired a pass to the end zone for Lawrence, who appeared to make a touchdown catch but officials ruled that the ball came out before he hit the ground, resulting in fourth down.
Again the Rutgers special teams came up big, with the unit blocking its second kick of the half when Grochowski's 30-yard attempt was batted away by Lorenzo Waters, keeping the score tied heading into halftime.
"I think they are critical," said Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood regarding the blocked kicks. "Certainly they keep the game 7-7 at halftime, as opposed to 13-7, and I think their momentum swings in the game. I think it's something that gets you excited and keeps the defense going sometimes."
Punt exchanges filled the third quarter until Army got the ball back with 3:53 to go in the period. They were able to advance deep into Rutgers' territory, but once again came up empty.
From the Scarlet Knights' 15, Dixon took the carry up the middle but had the ball knocked out of his hands. Marvin Booker of Rutgers jumped on it and gave the ball back to the offense to end another Army threat.
Rutgers advanced the ball to past midfield early in the fourth, but Nova's pass intended for Miles Shuler was intercepted by Justin Trimble after the ball hit off Shuler's hands.
After the Black Knights were forced to punt, Rutgers took over in Army territory after Chris Boldt's kick traveled just nine yards.
Following three straight carries by Jamison, Nova took the snap from the shotgun and threw a strike near the corner of the end zone to Coleman, who made the grab for a 31-yard touchdown to put Rutgers on top 14-7 with 8:49 to play in the game.
The Scarlet Knights secured the win after forcing Army three-and-out on its next touch. Getting ready to punt, the snap to Boldt sailed over his head. Army recovered. but lost 33 yards on the play and Rutgers took over at their opponent's 1-yard line.
On the second play of the drive, Savon Huggins broke the goal line for a score, making it 21-7 Rutgers and a two-possession game.
Army turned the ball over on downs on its next possession before A.J Schurr fumbled on the following touch, which resulted in a 73-yard touchdown return for Rutgers' Duron Hamron to account for the final margin.
Rutgers is off to its best start after nine games since 2006, when they began the season 9-0. They will play at Cincinnati next week ... Dating back to 1991, the Scarlet Knights have defeated the Black Knights 13 times in the last 15 meetings between the teams ... Rutgers secured an eight-win season for the sixth time in the past seven seasons ... Army has not won back-to-back games since 2010 and extended its losing streak on the road to 12 games.