The 55th annual service academy duel between Air Force and Navy plays out Saturday morning, comprising two teams on upward trajectories. Their 2022 success could make for an interesting four quarters of football.
Both programs are coming off big week-three wins. The Falcons dismantled the Nevada Wolfpack in a 48-20 Mountain West Conference game, improving to 3-1. They defeated Pac-12 member Colorado earlier this season, 41-10.
“Both teams played really, really hard … it’s hard to win,” said Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun in a post-game press conference last Saturday. “The bottom line is it’s really hard to win. Especially for us playing in a major conference.”
Navy played a wild double-overtime contest against a solid East Carolina team last Saturday, prevailing 23-20.
“East Carolina was a really, really good team … They should be undefeated,” said Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo in a presser this week. “I think NC State is ranked No. 12 right now (No. 10). They should’ve beat NC State. They missed an extra point and a field goal. (East Carolina lost to North Carolina State 20-21 in their opener.) It was a good football team that we beat on the road.”
Saturday’s contest marks the first of three in the fight for the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy. There was a three-way tie for the trophy last year. Air Force beat Navy, Army defeated Air Force and Navy prevailed against Army.
“Bringing the Commander-In-Chief Trophy back to Annapolis? It’s everything, man,” Niumatalolo said. “This game is everything. As long as I’ve been here … everything is getting that trophy … everybody in our program understands the significance of the Air Force game.”
The importance of the game and trophy is on Air Force’s radar too.
“This is a game that is circled on everyone’s calendar, including ours,” said Falcons’ wide receiver Ben Jefferson in a Tuesday press conference. “Beginning of the year, our team has goals, and this is at the top of it.”
The last time Navy beat Air Force in Colorado Springs was in 2012. Freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds came off the bench, guiding the Mids to a 28-21 overtime win. Air Force leads the all-time series 32-22, which includes last year’s 23-3 win in Annapolis.
Air Force will be a challenging opponent for the Mids. The Falcon offense averages nearly 38 points per game and possesses the No. 1-ranked rushing offense in the nation. The Falcons average 412 yards per game.
“Just super impressed,” Niumatalolo said. “They’ve got a veteran team. They know what they’re doing. Mike (Thiessen-offensive coordinator) and Troy (Calhoun) on offense. They know exactly who they are…so schematically, they know who they are and what they’re trying to get done. Air Force is Air Force. They’re always a good team.”
In Navy’s run-first offense, the passing game — surprisingly — is ranked No. 2 in the nation in yards per completion.
“This isn’t our offense,” Niumatalolo said. “We’re not that happy at all on the offensive side of the ball…we’re not happy with how we’re playing on offense.”
Navy will try to counter Air Force’s deft rushing attack with its fifth-ranked rushing defense. They’re only allowing 69 yards per game.
“They played really, really well defensively … Collectively, how well they play…they’re a really, really good group,” Calhoun said.
Can Navy use the momentum from their impressive performance against East Carolina to pick up the win in Colorado Springs? Can Air Force continue racking up points or at least yards Saturday? Both teams know who they’re up against.
“Lots of similarities in the type of kids,” Niumatalolo said. “Just fighters, man. They’ve got fighters, we’ve got fighters.”Read comments