Navy Flounders On Offense, Air Force Stymies Mids for 2-0 Start
by Diane Roberts
We had our first Commander In Chief's Trophy game of the season, and it had some serious implications for one of the teams. Air Force was on the road in Annapolis, facing a Navy team coming off a blowout loss in week one.
The Falcons won and the Midshipmen lost more than just the game -- the loss briefly cost the Offensive Coordinator his job.
The 54th meeting between Air Force and Navy started out as a gorgeous fall day, but with a heavy dose of emotion. There was the Midshipmen March-on, the impressive parachuters from the sky and the teams running onto the field carrying American flags on the 20th remembrance of the 9-11 attacks.
To top it off, both teams came dressed wearing special uniforms for the occasion. Air Force honored the Vietnam-era B-52 Bomber "Stratofortress" with the 2021 edition of their Air Power Legacy Series uniforms The Navy uniforms were an ode to traditional Marine Corps Dress Blues.
After an exciting build-up, the game started slowly, with a lot of defense and little offense from either side. The host Midshipmen had a particularly rough start, going 3-and-out on their first drive and mustering just 6 yards of offense in the first quarter. It was smash-mouth Academy football at its best with the first quarter ending in a 0-0 tie.
Navy was the first team to score, as a 26-yard run from quarterback Xavier Arline led to a 23-yard field goal from Bijan Nichols to put the Midshipmen up 3-0. But those would be the only points Navy would put on the board all day.
Later in the second quarter Navy running back Chance Warren tried to return a punt but muffed the ball and Air Force recovered deep in Navy territory. Despite the mishap on special teams, Navy's defense held and prevented Air Force from turning that opportunity into points.
The Falcons dominated on the stats sheet. Air force won time of posession, 37 minutes to 23, first downs, 14 to 6, and in total yards on offense, 225 to 68.
Navy's Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo was somber, and clearly deflated, in his post game comments to the media. "Tough loss," he said, "Always tough losing to a Service Academy. Just give them credit, give Air Force credit, but it's a hard one to swallow."
"Their guys played exceptionally hard," Air Force's Head Coach Troy Calhoun said amidst a much more festive atmosphere in the opposite locker room, "and our guys fought like crazy. The part that pleased you was I felt like we got a little stronger, we executed better as the game went forth."
"We just stayed aggressive and just played our keys and played how we could play," said Air Force linebacker Demonte Meeks, who notched nine tackles and two sacks on the day.
Besides their sluggish offense, Navy's special teams was also a liability. There was Warren's muffed punt return, terrible punts of their own, and a bad snap on a punt attempt that saw the ball sail through the endzone for an Air Force safety.
"Just trying to console the players," Niumatalolo said after the defeat, "As a coach you're frustrated, you're mad that you lose, and all those feelings, but first and foremost you feel for your players. You feel for them and the pain they're going through."
"Our defense was obviously incredible today," commented Air Force running back Brad Roberts, who scored two TDs on 97 yards in the game, "and they really showed what they can do and the kind of players that we have."
Navy's offensive struggles weren't just embarrassing, they reportedly led Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuck to the fire Offensive Coordinator Ivin Jasper immediately after the game. Niumatalolo pleaded for Jasper's job.
"There's some emotion invovled, obviously," Niumatalolo told reporters on a virtual press conference two days after the game, "but we had just lost a big game."
Coach Jasper has since been reinstated, relegated to coaching quarterbacks while Niumatalolo will call plays.
Jasper had been Navy's OC for 14 years, and with the football program for 22. But, Navy failed to score more than seven points in any of its last five games, and the Midshipmen have lost seven straight games dating back to last year.
"We've still got a lot to play for," Niumatalolo said at the Monday press conference, "Coach Jasper has meant so much to this program. Obviously we're not playing well now on offense, but the things that he has done for this program and this school over the years has been monumental. We're a stronger program and we have a better chance if he's with us."
Players from both teams knew the significance of playing on Sept. 11th. "For me, it kind of put everything into perspective," said Navy's Warren after the game, "I'm sitting here sour and very upset about a loss, but 20 years ago today so many people lost loved ones."
"We came in prepared," said Air Force linebacker TD Blackmon, "It's 9-11, everyone's got emotions. It's a special day, special day for everyone."
With this CIC win Air Force improves to 2-0 and Navy drops to 0-2
Air Force begins conference play next week with Utah State visiting Falcon Stadium, while Navy has a bye week to regroup before heading into the meat of a schedule that is considered to be the third hardest in all of college football.
edited for web by Joe Harman