YPSILANTI, Mich. (AP) — If Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton is a little bit on edge as he prepares the Eagles to face Army, that's understandable.
The surging Black Knights (5-2) visit on Saturday, and they're fresh from a home victory over Miami of Ohio that was eerily similar to one they posted a year ago over the Eagles (4-4).
"They're really, really good," Creighton said. "It was hard to watch that in so many ways."
Army held off Eastern Michigan 28-27 last year at Michie Stadium on homecoming when safety James Gibson made a game-saving tackle at the goal line on a two-point conversion attempt in the final minute. Creighton had made the decision to go for the victory, and last week Miami of Ohio coach Chuck Martin suffered the same fate on the same gamble — also on Army's homecoming.
Trailing the entire game, Miami forced overtime with a late score. After fullback Darnell Woolfolk put the Black Knights ahead with a bruising touchdown run up the middle in the second overtime, the RedHawks pulled within 31-30 on Gus Ragland's 18-yard, fourth-down completion to a diving Luke Mayock on the left side of the end zone. This time it was Elijah Riley to the rescue on the two-point conversion attempt — he tackled Kenny Young at the 2 to end it.
Now the Black Knights are aiming to spoil EMU's homecoming. A victory will make Army eligible for a bowl game for the third straight season, something the Black Knights have never accomplished.
"I think this is one of the best teams we've played," Army coach Jeff Monken said. "If you look at their games this year, everyone that they fell short in was a close game."
EMU, which has won two straight, is 45-43-2 all-time on homecoming but hasn't won one since 2014.
"This is a challenge," Creighton said. "It is our homecoming game, and having won the last two, a noon kick. It's a big deal."
Other things to know when Army visits Eastern Michigan on Saturday:
Fifteen of EMU's last 19 games have been decided by a touchdown or less and the Eagles have lost 11 of them. This season they lost four straight by a combined 16 points, defeated Purdue by one point on the road, and had a breather on the road last week, beating Ball State 42-20 .
"I thought we played well in all three phases," Creighton said of last week's victory . "The guys met the challenge. We've had a lot of practice bouncing back after disappointing losses. We have not proven we can play well following success. Our guys rose to that challenge. I was proud of them."
The Black Knights have averaged 343.3 rushing yards over the past six games with their potent triple option, notching 24 of 28 TDs on the ground. They're averaging 318.3 yards on the season, second nationally, and lead the nation in time of possession at 39 minutes.
"Everything seems to be heightened when you're playing Army," Creighton said. "If you can get a lead, you're in better shape than trying to come back. The possessions are precious."
WHO'S AT QUARTERBACK
Army sophomore QB Cam Thomas got a win in his first college start last week, rushing for team-high 137 yards and one touchdown. He was subbing for injured starter Kelvin Hopkins Jr., the team's leading rusher. Monken said Hopkins would be a game-time decision but has the luxury of knowing that Thomas is a capable replacement.
EMU senior QB Tyler Wiegers is 107-of-162 passing for 1,268 yards. He leads the Mid-American Conference and ranks 22nd nationally in completion percentage (66 percent). Despite splitting time under center, he also ranks eighth in the MAC in passing touchdowns (8) and sixth in passing yards per completion (11.85).
"He gets rid of the ball very quickly and has a strong arm," Monken said. "They are different with him now than they were at the start of the season. That's probably the most impressive thing when watching their offense. He's a good athlete, and being a guy that has as much experience as he does, nothing is going to faze him."
Junior QB Mike Glass III has split time under center and has registered two 100-yard rushing games.
Army is 7-1 against Eastern Michigan. EMU's lone win came in 2012, when the Eagles notched a 48-38 victory at Rynearson Stadium.