DALLAS - Army owned the first half of the Armed Forces Bowl, building a 16-0 lead at the break, and that was just enough to hold off a furious comeback attempt by SMU this afternoon.
The Mustangs (7-7) held the Black Knights (7-6) scoreless over the final two quarters and had a chance to win the game late in the fourth, but Matt Szymanski's 47-yard field goal attempt into the wind fell just short.
Darius Johnson enjoyed a tremendous outing for SMU, catching nine passes for 152 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore RB Zach Line carried 17 times for 103 yards, and Kyle Padron completed 23-of-34 attempts for 302 yards and a couple of TDs.
SMU outgained Army by nearly a 2-to-1 margin (413 yards to 229), but the Mustangs also turned the ball over on three occasions in the first half.
On the first play from scrimmage, Padron found Aldrick Robinson for a 45-yard completion, but two plays later, Army's Zack Watts nailed Padron and jarred the ball loose. Black Knights DE Josh McNary promptly scooped up the pigskin and returned it 55 yards to paydirt.
The Mustangs then marched into enemy territory once again, only to have a 35-yard field goal attempt -- also into the wind -- fly wide left.
On Army's subsequent possession, QB Trent Steelman ran the triple option to perfection, driving the Black Knights 80 yards for another touchdown. Slotback Malcolm Brown took the pitch and skated into the end zone for a 13-0 margin (the PAT failed) with plenty of time still remaining in the first stanza.
SMU's first three drives each covered more than 50 yards, but none resulted in any points. Army linebacker Stephen Anderson intercepted Padron at the Black Knights' 22-yard line to halt the Mustangs' third possession.
Give SMU credit for a gutsy second-half performance. The defense made the proper adjustments and kept Army's offense under wraps, and Padron largely played mistake-free football.
Padron's eight-yard scoring strike to Robinson in the third cut the deficit to 16-7, and a perfectly-placed 28-yard TD pass to a well-covered Johnson made it 16-14 with 9:20 remaining in the game.
The Mustangs' defense forced Army to go three-and-out, setting the stage for the potential game-winning drive that almost came to fruition.
Speaking of defense, safety Chris Banjo accounted for several hard hits during the game, and linebackers Ja'Gared Davis, Taylor Reed, and Pete Fleps did well in the second half.
Johnson and Anderson were named MVPs of their respective teams. Johnson made several tough grabs, including a leaping, acrobatic reception in the first half in which he skied into the air and then tip-toed the sideline.