Army-Air Force will be a winner-take-all for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy

West Point's Michie Stadium in 2018. Army will be trying to win its eighth home game of the unusual 2020 season Saturday when it hosts Air Force in a rescheduled game.


By KEN MCMILLAN | The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y. | Published: December 18, 2020

WEST POINT, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — For the first time in 48 years, the Army-Air Force football game will be a winner-take-all for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy.

Normally, this matchup is the middle of three scheduled games between the service academies. The original Nov. 7 game was postponed due to COVID concerns, and was re-scheduled for the week following Army-Navy. Since Army (8-2) and Air Force (3-2) both beat Navy (3-7) earlier, the winner of Saturday's 3 p.m. game at Michie Stadium claims the title.

CBS Sports Network televises the game.

"Going out there and having these types of games is why you play," said Army punter Zach Harding.

"This is the game that allows us to win the CIC," said linebacker Arik Smith, "so it's very important for us."

Normally, Army schedules a week or two of extra prep time ahead of the Air Force and Navy games. There was only seven days to prepare this time but Army has the advantage of playing an option offense on consecutive weeks so the muscle memory is already in place.

"There are some things that we're going to look at and change," said linebacker Jon Rhattigan, understanding that Navy and Air Force have differences in the plays they run. "Our goal is to stop the run."

Army's returnees have the added motivation to avenge a 2019 loss in Colorado Springs, where the Black Knights pushed to the brink of the Air Force end zone only to be stopped in the closing seconds of a 17-13 setback. It's a loss that has played on their minds ever since.

"The guys that were there last year," Rhattigan said, "we'll remember that feeling. It was a tough game. It was a close game and ultimately we didn't win. I'll always remember that we got stopped at the goal line. We're out for revenge."

Sophomore quarterback Tyhier Tyler is the likely starter, following his wins over Georgia Southern and Navy. This will be his first varsity appearance against Air Force but he did play in the matchup of prep school teams a couple years ago.

"These CIC games are why you come to the academy," Tyler said. "I'm very excited, very honored to play in these games. (They are) bigger than football. You're representing people all over the world. I've had a lot of different units and officers reach out to me, saying how they liked how we represented the Army."

Wide receiver Tyrell Robinson is one of a handful of contributing freshmen who will also face Air Force for the first time. He said he doesn't anticipate any emotional letdown following the thrilling win over Navy because there's still a major goal to achieve.

"We still have our mind set on getting the CIC trophy," Robinson said. "So we're working hard this week to get that done this weekend."

Adding to the intrigue of the CIC series, a large number of the athletes were recruited by all three academies.

"Just the fact that we do compete throughout the year in recruiting adds to the rivalries, not just on Saturday afternoons in the fall, but it's all the time," said Army seventh-year head coach Jeff Monken.

Army was the first winner of the series in 1972 but its eight titles pale against current holder Navy (16 titles) and Air Force (20, its last title in 2016). The Black Knights last won in 2017 and 2018.

Army has never played eight home games at Michie Stadium, completed in 1924, so the Black Knights will be playing for their first 8-0 home campaign since then. The 1914 and 1916 squads also went 8-0 at home, likely on the parade ground known as The Plain.


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Spare equipment on the Air Force sideline during a game at Army in 2018.