West Point, N.Y. — If Rutgers somehow manages to play in the postseason, the camaraderie of the Scarlet Knights will play a big factor.
Paul James rushed for 116 yards and three touchdowns, tailback Josh Hicks excelled in a switch to safety with a fumble recovery and key interception, and Rutgers beat Army 31-21 on Saturday to snap a four-game losing streak.
The Scarlet Knights (4-7) had a season-high 24 players listed on the initial injury report, including five offensive linemen, and Hicks did more than his share in a new role. The second-leading runner on the team sealed the triumph with his end-zone pick with 5:22 left and finished with six solo tackles.
“I’m really proud of this team,” Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. “I put the starting lineups out there and No. 8 (Hicks) is starting at strong safety. I’m really proud of the unselfishness of the players. There was no question when we came in here — we knew it was going to be a 60-minute battle.”
With one game left, at home against Maryland, Rutgers can finish with five wins and be in the hunt for a bowl game if there aren’t enough teams to fill the 41 bowl games on the schedule.
“It was a real good day for the team,” Hicks said. “We came out and got the win. That’s the only thing that’s important right now.”
Rutgers has won nine straight in the series with Army (2-9). The Black Knights finish the season against archrival Navy in December, their last chance to make something of a season with too many tantalizingly close losses.
“We can’t get down in the dumps,” senior Kelvin White said. “We have three weeks to prepare for the team down in Annapolis.”
Six of Army’s losses were by a combined 26 points — two on field goals at home on the final play — and this one followed form until the end, even with a freshman at quarterback. The Black Knights were poised to pull within a field goal in the fourth quarter when Hicks stopped their momentum.
Chris Carter, who took first-team snaps at quarterback in Army practices during the week while starter Ahmad Bradshaw wore a boot on an injured right foot, made his first career start as backup A.J. Schurr also was injured. Aside from the interception and a lost fumble on a quick snap that Rutgers converted into a touchdown, Carter did a solid job.
The 5-foot-11, 170-pound native of Imperial, California gained 111 yards rushing on 20 carries and scored once, and was spot-on with several pitches to help key Army’s triple option, which put up 401 yards. Carter also completed 4 of 6 passes for 140 yards — the most by an Army quarterback in five years — and one touchdown as Army converted 9 of 13 third downs.
“I went into the game like I did in high school,” Carter said. “I just tried to do my best. There was no time to be scared.”
Rutgers led 24-14 at the half and James bolted 54 yards on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter. He scored on a 1-yard run at the 11:21 mark of the third for a 31-14 lead.
“It takes a lot of pressure off our shoulders,” Rutgers offensive lineman Zack Heeman said. “It’s a relief. It brings a happiness, an excitement, that we really haven’t had in a while.”
Still, the Black Knights refused to wilt. Carter hit Edgar Poe for a 65-yard touchdown as Poe made a terrific catch and tight-roped his way into the end zone to close the gap to 31-21 in the final minute of the third quarter.
Army dug an early hole for itself in the first quarter as Rutgers blocked a field goal and Carter fumbled. The Scarlet Knights capitalized on both mistakes, with James scoring on runs of 1 and 7 yards for a 14-0 lead.
The Black Knights broke through early in the second. Carter hit a wide-open Poe for 30 yards and Aaron Kemper followed with a 38-yard touchdown run over left tackle.
Rutgers gained a 21-7 lead on Robert Martin’s 5-yard run midway through the second before Carter struck again. Undaunted by his first-ever college action, Carter keyed another scoring drive with a 45-yard run. His 1-yard run narrowed the Rutgers lead to 21-14 with 69 seconds left in the half.