Navy's service academy football dominance is downright remarkable
The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — How long can this continue? How long can Navy continue to beat Air Force and Army?
Seriously, Navy’s decade-long dominance of service academy competition is really quite remarkable. Since 2003, the Midshipmen have fashioned a 19-2 record against the Black Knights and Falcons.
This is historic stuff, and rivals what Air Force accomplished in previous decades. The Falcons won 12 straight service academy games from 1997 through 2002 and 13 of 14 from 1989 through 1995.
During the outstanding tenure of head coach Fisher DeBerry, Air Force captured the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy outright 16 times. The Falcons still lead the standing for CIC titles with 18, but the Midshipmen are closing the gap.
Navy now has 13 outright CIC championships and is a victory over archrival Army away from adding to that total.
Navy took the first step toward retaining the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy by beating Air Force, 28-10, on Saturday before a record crowd of 38,225 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. The Midshipmen have won nine of the last 11 meetings with the Falcons, easily their most successful stretch in the series.
For too many years, Air Force owned Navy — winning 20 of 23 meetings from 1980 through 2002. For the Midshipmen, many of those losses were of the embarrassing variety as the Falcons scored 40 points or more in six contests while three others were decided by 17 points or more.
Two of the most lopsided contests came in the five-year period prior to Navy’s current run of success. Air Force won 49-7 in 1998 and 48-7 in 2002, both of which spoke to the state of Navy’s program toward the end of the Charlie Weatherbie era.
New head coach Paul Johnson needed a year to instill a different attitude and teach the Midshipmen how to win and in 2003 the tide began to turn in favor of the Annapolis academy. Johnson completed his six-year tenure with a 5-1 record versus Air Force while successor Ken Niumatalolo now boasts a 4-2 mark against the academy based in Colorado Springs.
This past Saturday’s 18-point victory over Air Force was Navy’s most lopsided in the series since 1978. That little factoid has to give diehard Falcons fans pause, leading them to wonder what has happened to tilt the balance of power toward the Midshipmen.
It is a question Army fans and alumni have been asking for a while as Navy has established a series record with 11 straight wins against its archrival.
Really, the answer is quite simple. For the better part of the past decade, Navy has recruited better, coached better and played better than Air Force and Army. It all comes down to results, and those speak for themselves.
On Saturday, Air Force came out ready to go and actually outplayed Navy during the first half. The Falcons were getting the job done in the trenches, controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
Air Force had its version of option offense working in the first half, consistently gaining five yards or more on first down to set up manageable third down situations. The Falcons converted 7 of 11 third-down chances in the first half, staying on the field and keeping the ball away from the Midshipmen.
It was a good news-bad news scenario for the Navy defense. On the one hand, the Mids just could not come up with a defensive stop, failing time after time on third down. On the other hand, defensive coordinator Buddy Green got his unit to stiffen in the red zone.
Ultimately, Air Force’s failure to score more than 10 points while holding the ball for nearly 21 of 30 minutes in the first half was a huge factor in the final result.
Give the Air Force defense credit for holding Navy to a touchdown on 120 total yards during the first half. However, the Mids seemed discombobulated on offense and repeatedly hurt themselves.
Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper probably regrets calling a couple of untimely pass plays that resulted in negative yardage and killed drives. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds seemed out of sorts, which was not surprising considering he was coming off a concussion suffered the previous Saturday.
Fortunately, Reynolds hasn’t played poorly for an entire game since taking over as the starting quarterback and Niumatalolo knew the sophomore sensation would get it together. Reynolds didn’t get a chance to right the ship against Western Kentucky last weekend as team trainers took his helmet away.
“Quite frankly, that wasn’t his best first half,” Niumatalolo said of Reynolds. ”As a coach, it gives me great peace to look down and see him sitting on the bench — without a baseball cap on. I knew he’d get out of it. He’s such a good football player.”
Indeed, Reynolds was the best player on the field in the second half and wound up with another superb statistical day — rushing for 126 yards and three touchdowns while passing for 54 yards. It’s really more than the numbers with Reynolds, whose poise and calming presence brings confidence to the entire offense. The Tennessee native is a true winner and just finds a way to get it done when it matters most.
That was evident on a key possession early in the fourth quarter. Navy’s defense had just come up with a huge fourth-down stop deep in its own territory, with cornerback Kwazel Bertrand making a great play to trip up Air Force fullback Broam Hart.
The Midshipmen were still clinging to a 14-10 lead, and quite frankly the offense needed to pick it up and capitalize on the momentum and emotion the defense had just provided. Navy faced three third-down situations on the ensuing drive and Reynolds was responsible for converting all of them.
He scrambled for 16 yards on third and four then did it again by gaining 17 yards on third and six. Facing third and eight from the Air Force 21-yard line, Reynolds made one of his signature plays — sensing the rush and narrowly avoiding a sack by rolling out to the right at just the right moment. He was surveying the field while on the run and pointing to the spot where he wanted wide receiver Shawn Lynch to go.
Lynch moved into the open area his quarterback had spotted and was on the receiving end of a perfect strike that produced a 12-yard gain and gave the Mids first-and-goal at the 9-yard line. Moments later, Reynolds was diving into the end zone for a touchdown that put Navy ahead 21-10 and basically gave the home team control.