WEST POINT, N.Y. -- When the game was on the line, the Rutgers defense stepped up.
Joe Martinek scored twice on short runs, linebacker Steve Beauharnais scored off his own blocked punt, and the Scarlet Knights forced fumbles on consecutive series late in the third quarter to break Army's momentum en route to a 27-10 victory on Friday night at rainswept Michie Stadium.
"I felt we were playing good football when we blocked the punt for a touchdown," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. "The first drive is always difficult against an option team. When you go against a team that runs this [offense], they know the adjustments, then it's punch-counterpunch. I think the takeaways were critical."
It was the sixth straight victory for Rutgers (5-2) over Army (3-5) and evened the series at 18-all. The Black Knights have lost 12 straight games against Big East teams since beating Rutgers 37-35 in 1997.
Thanks to a stout front line that afforded plenty of protection from Army's swarming defense, freshman quarterback Tom Savage guided Rutgers to a 17-3 halftime lead with some big plays: a 32-yard completion in the first quarter to Mark Harrison that set up Martinek's 4-yard run, and a 48-yard pass to Tim Brown that was followed by San San Te's 27-yard field goal.
But when Rutgers faked a punt and failed on fourth-and-12 at the Army 40 on the first series of the third quarter, the Black Knights came alive.
Patrick Mealy took a pitch right for 22 yards and Rutgers defensive tackle Scott Vallone, who was shaken up briefly moments earlier, jumped offside twice in a row to give Army another first down. Lonnie Liggins then scored up the middle to make it 17-10, and the momentum was starting to swing.
"It wasn't a matter of sticking with them. We believed we could win," Army defensive tackle Mike Gann said. "It just came down to missed tackles and lost fumbles."
Rutgers entered the game with a plus-2 turnover margin and its stellar defense came alive when it mattered most.
After Te's 41-yard field goal boosted Rutgers' lead to 20-10 with 6:35 left in the third, Army, which crossed midfield only once in the first half, drove to the Rutgers 34 and seemed poised for another score. But George Johnson forced a fumble by Kingsley Ehie and Alex Silvestro recovered for the Scarlet Knights.
"We're gaining on it, but we can't take a step forward and two steps back. It won't work," Army coach Rich Ellerson said. "It's just us. There's nothing magical about it. The negative plays just killed us."
Army forced a three-and-out, but Brad Gallik of the Cadets fumbled and Khaseem Greene recovered for the Scarlet Knights at the Army 37. Savage completed a 28-yard pass to tight end Shamar Graves on the first play of the fourth quarter, setting up Martinek's 6-yard TD run.
Savage finished 10 of 20 for 164 yards to become just the second freshman quarterback in Rutgers history to win a road game. Ryan Cubit won his first road game at Buffalo in 2001 in his first career start.
"I know I missed a lot of open guys. I feel like I took a step today getting a 'W' in that first away game," Savage said. "When I was walking out there, I kind of got the chills a little bit. It just didn't feel real to me."
Army scored first for the seventh time this season. Trent Steelman hit Malcolm Brown for 21 yards and Ehie had a 26-yard run up the middle on a third-and-9 play to set up Alex Carlton's 41-yard field goal.
The Scarlet Knights, ranked 11th nationally in rushing defense, allowing just 91.5 yards per game, gave up 197 on the ground to Army's triple option. But the Black Knights only converted 1 of 11 third downs, punted seven times, and scored only one offensive touchdown for the fifth straight game.
"We're getting there," Steelman said. "We just have to finish. We're moving the ball. It's just a matter of finishing. It's just one block here or there."
Martinek had 139 yards rushing and Brown had four catches for 101 yards to pace Rutgers.