His play will stand as the highlight of Army’s 2014 season – unless, of course, the Black Knights manage an upset of Navy next month.
Two weeks ago Army junior cornerback Chris Carnegie kept Army’s slim hopes for a bowl bid in 2014 with a 99-yard interception for a touchdown and 35-21 win over Connecticut at Yankee Stadium. The play not only halted UConn’s attempt to tie the game in the final moments, Carnegie’s return provided a cushion to clinch the game.
“That play was staying in coverage the way the coaches talk about staying in coverage, especially when the quarterback is scrambling,” Carnegie said. “That was a play where I did my job and helped the defense.”
Only two games remain for Army (3-7) as the Black Knights prepare first for Fordham on Saturday in the home finale at Michie Stadium. There there is the 115th Army-Navy Game on Dec. 13 in Baltimore.
A win over Navy would salvage an otherwise fourth straight losing season, but either way first-year Army head coach Jeff Monken and his staff will soon be evaluating where to go from here.
One area they’ll feel confident about planning for 2015 is cornerback where Carneigie has played boundary corner and sophomore Josh Jenkins field corner.
The 6-foot, 200-pound Carnegie, a junior from Oakland, Calif., has taken the next step this season from a talented but raw corner as a freshman and sophomore to a savvy one as a junior. He has three interceptions and six pass breakups – both second on the team to Jenkins, a sophomore from Pittsburg, Calif. He’s fourth on the team in tackles with 45 overall and 37 solo.
“I’m happy I’ve made some plays that have inspired my teammates to keep playing hard, especially in the UConn game,” Carnegie said. “It makes me realize the positive impact my play can have on the team besides just myself.”
Carnegie says he’s much more of a student of the game as a junior now that he has the experience of 30 straight starts – the most on the team.
“I think my improvement is mostly in the mental game,” he said. “I’m three years in as a starter. I’ve seen a lot of football. I’m able to understand formations, understand down and distance and alignment on the field. Another thing I’ve worked on is keep my eyes right; keep my eyes on my man and and try to read his cuts. I think that’s really helped.”
The best example of ability to read the game is on screen plays. He’s not getting caught back pedaling or tied up in blocks.
“I’m able to recognize the screens to try and get up and meet the block and get off the block to make a tackle,” he said. “I was having trouble with that. When you’re a mentally stronger player, you can make more plays. I feel confident in my ability to make plays.”
The transition from former head coach Rich Ellerson to Monken and his staff hasn’t been a smooth one with losses to Wake Forest, Yale and Kent State. Anyone of them could have kept the Black Knights in contention for a bowl bid. Wake Forest has only won two games and Kent State one and Yale is an Ivy League member.
But Carnegie says there is more progress than fans realize.
“There are definitely some good things happening this season,” he said. “A lot of things didn’t go our way, but this program is making strides. Part of it is having a new coach and people starting to adapt to him and understand what he expects. We’re starting do things a lot more efficiently.
“We know the program is going to turn, but it’s on us players to make it happen. We have to work hard and really commit and put in the effort.”