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Sophomore quarterback leads Air Force to 35-7 rout of Navy

By BILL WAGNER | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. (TNS) | Published: October 6, 2018

COLORADO SPRINGS (Tribune News Service) — You could call it the disaster in Colorado Springs.

A completely ineffective offense and a defense that wore down over the course of the contest doomed the Midshipmen in the first leg of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy series.

Sophomore quarterback D.J. Hammond directed an offense that got stronger as the game went along as Air Force seized control in the second quarter and never let up in manhandling Navy, 35-7, Saturday before an announced crowd of 40,175 at Falcon Stadium.

Hammond completed 6 of 10 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown as the Falcons outscored the Mids 35-0 after falling behind by a touchdown early in the second period. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Hammond, who was listed third on the depth chart coming into the game, also rushed for 60 yards and three scores for Air Force (2-3).

Hammond did almost all his damage after returning to the game following an injury suffered on his team’s second possession. Navy inside linebacker Taylor Heflin was called for targeting for the hit that knocked Hammond out of the game with what appeared to be a concussion.

Hammond lay motionless on the field for a while and appeared woozy when he finally was able to sit up. He had to be helped off the field by trainers and was replaced at quarterback by junior Isaiah Sanders.

Considering the nature of the injury and the fact Heflin was ejected from the game, it was somewhat surprising to see Hammond come back after sitting out just one series.

Quarterback Malcolm Perry oversaw an embarrassing offensive performance that produced just six first downs and 119 total yards through three quarters while the defense gave up several big plays as the Mids were pretty much dominated most of the way.

Navy’s lone touchdown came after the visitors were given a short field by a poor punt. The Midshipmen needed nine plays to move just 34 yards on that scoring drive.

So profound was the offensive futility that Navy’s longest drive of the day was 50 yards and resulted in a 57-yard field goal attempt that kicker Bennett Moehring missed badly.

It was a defensive struggle early with Navy going three-and-out on three straight possessions to start the game and Air Force also failing to pick up a first down on its initial three offensive series.

Charlie Scott’s second punt only traveled 25 yards and set up Navy at the Air Force 34-yard line. The Midshipmen took advantage of the short field with slotback Tre Walker picking up 10 yards to bring the ball into the red zone.

Lewis entered the game on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line and found a huge hole on the right side – diving into the end zone to give Navy the early lead. Bennett Moehring booted the extra point and it was 7-0 at the 12:38 mark of the second quarter.

Air Force was forced to punt again on its fourth possession, but Navy went three-and-out for the fourth time in the game. That is when breakdowns by the Navy defense led to a pair of big plays that put the Falcons ahead.

Cornerback Jarid Ryan and safety Jake Springer both got caught looking into the backfield on play-action pass and that dual blown assignment left wide receiver Ronald Cleveland wide-open in the flat. Cleveland caught a short pass with no defender in the vicinity and raced untouched into the end zone to complete a 61-yard scoring strike that tied the contest at 7 with 7:04 remaining in the first half.

Navy’s offensive struggles continued on the ensuing possession with Perry making two mistakes on one play. Perry did not give the ball to the fullback when he should have then did not think to the throw the ball away after escaping the tackle box, taking a 6-yard loss as a result. A false start penalty on center Ford Higgins pretty guaranteed another three-and-out – fifth of the game for the Mids.

A questionable pass interference penalty on safety Sean Williams resulted in an 11-yard gain and two plays later running back Joseph Saucier took a pitch and raced 48 yard to pay-dirt. Jake Koehnke kicked his second extra point and that put Air Force ahead, 14-7, with 5:18 to go in the second quarter.

It appeared Navy outside linebacker Evan Fochtman got caught out of position on the play as there was no Navy defender to take the pitch and no one laid a glove on Saucier, who left several pursuing defenders in the dust.

Navy responded with its longest drive of the game, moving from its own 10-yard line to the Air Force 25-yard line. Perry broke loose for a 20-yard gain off an option keeper, but was speared by Air Force defensive back Dailen Sutton while he was down.

Perry was injured enough he had to leave the game and was replaced by Lewis. An incomplete pass followed by a chop block penalty effectively ended the drive. Guard Laurent Njiki was responsible for the chop block, diving at the legs of a defender that was engaged by Higgins.

Air Force basically put the game away with an impressive 7-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to start the second half. Hammond got things going with a 13-yard pass to wide receiver Geraud Sanders and followed with a 15-yard completion to Saucier.

Backup fullback Taven Birdow broke loose up the middle for a 27-yard gain that set up first-and-goal from the Navy 7-yard line. Hammond needed just two plays to cover that distance, scoring from 5 yards out to increase the Air Force lead to 21-7.

Perry directed yet another ineffective series on the ensuing possession, which ended with Perry scrambling for his life and desperately trying to throw the ball away. Perry suffered an ankle injury on that fourth down play and had to leave the game.

Air Force followed with another 75-yard touchdown drive with this one lasting 14 plays and taking 7:13 off the clock. Hammond hooked up with Sanders for completions of 19 and 23 yards on that extended march, which made it 28-7 with 57 seconds left in third quarter.

Air Force out-gained Navy 162-6 during the disastrous third period, which totally determined the outcome. The Midshipmen’s failure to convert on fourth down in their own territory gave the Falcons a short field and led to Hammond’s third rushing touchdown, a 2-yard trot that put the final nail in the coffin.

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©2018 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.)

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