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Air Force Blows Navy Right Out of the Water, Wins First CIC Leg 35-7

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The Falcons defense stifled Navy all game long, and Donald Hammond III accounted for 4 TDs as Air Force got a head start on reclaiming the CIC trophy

NCAA Football: Nevada at Air Force Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Navy travelled to Colorado Springs to take on an Air Force team that had yet to defeat an FBS opponent on the season. Both programs had to have looked at the kickoff of the CIC race as a potential season-defining chance to get back on track and propel themselves to a bowl game, conference contention, and hopefully, bringing the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy back to their school.

Navy came into the contest having played well at home, winning a big conference matchup against Memphis and having no trouble with FCS opponent Lehigh, but they had struggled on the road. The Mids dropped their season opener against Hawaii and lost an overtime game against SMU before their bye week.

Air Force had opened with a decisive victory against FCS foe Stony Brook, but had dropped three straight games against FAU and conference opponents Utah State and Nevada. However, even though they were 1-3 on the year, they had put themselves in position to mount a comeback each week with defensive and special teams touchdowns that made each game look closer than it actually was.

Both schools had been inconsistent on the year, and both clearly came into the game knowing that a big performance against a service academy rival could do wonders for establishing their identity and moving past the slow starts.

If that philosophy holds true, then the Mountain West conference better watch out the rest of this season. The Falcons just took it to the Midshipmen, winning by a final score of 35-7 and jumping in front in an attempt to reclaim the CIC trophy and bring it back to Colorado.

The Air Force defense completely dominated Navy all game, seemingly spending the entire 60 minutes in the Mids backfield and not allowing Malcolm Perry to find any kind of rhythm. They finished the game with EIGHT tackles for a loss and held the Navy offense to just 178 yards of total offense. Navy only converted two third downs on thirteen attempts and never could get anything going after taking a brief 7-0 lead early in the second quarter. They ended up with 7, yes 7 three and outs, and a turnover on downs.

On offense, Donald Hammond III stole the show and more than likely the quarterback position, as the sophomore wound up with four total TDs. He rushed for 60 yards and 3 touchdowns and was 6/10 passing for 142 yards and another score. Ronald Cleveland and Geraud Sanders each had some nice catches at the wide receiver position and Joseph Saucier added some solid runs including a touchdown run of his own.

The one highlight for Navy was punter Owen White, as he booted the ball 7 times at nearly a 50 yard clip (48.7) and downed Air Force on consecutive possessions at the two yard line in the first quarter, allowing Navy to have excellent field position. That would setup the only points Navy would score all game as Garret Lewis scored from two yards out to put the Mids up 7-0 early in the second quarter.

Recap:

The first quarter was a defensive struggle as Navy had its first of seven three and outs, Air Force turned the ball over on downs, and then the teams traded two three and out punts each. Those two punts by Owen White led to the excellent field position that put Navy in a great spot to capitalize as they finally put together a good drive and got on the board on the Lewis TD.

On the previous Air Force possession, Hammond was injured on a play that saw Taylor Heflin ejected for targeting. Hammond appeared to be unable to move his right hand at all as it was contorted on the ground and was very slow to get up, spending a good 40 seconds on the turf before being able to move at all. From my perspective, it clearly looked like a head injury, and I am not a doctor by any means, but I was shocked to see Hammond enter the game again. Nowadays if there is even a 1% chance someone has suffered a head injury, they don’t go back in the game, but Hammond clearly passed the concussion protocol of the team doctors and was able to return after only missing one series.

Once he reentered the game, Air Force turned the tide on offense and never looked back. On just his third play back, he connected with Ronald Cleveland on a busted Navy coverage and Air Force tied the game at 7 on the 61 yard touchdown reception.

Following another Navy three and out, it took the Falcons only two plays to score as Saucier took a pitch from Hammond 48 yards to the house to put Air Force up 14-7.

Navy would put together perhaps their best drive of the game in response, marching down to the Air Force 25 yard line, but an illegal block call stalled the drive, and Bennet Moehring was unable to convert on a very long 57 yard attempt as the game went to the half with Air Force still up 7.

The third quarter was dominated by the Falcons, as they had scoring drives of 7 and 14 plays, both of which resulted in Hammond QB keepers for touchdowns and the defense held Navy to two three and outs and a turnover on downs. Before Navy knew what hit them, it was 28-7 headed into the fourth quarter. The Falcons would add a third TD run by Hammond on their first possession of the fourth quarter to put themselves up 35-7, and that’s where the score would stand in the end.

Thoughts:

Navy has now lost 8 straight away from Annapolis, and will turn their attention to trying to avenge a loss to Temple next week when they welcome them to Annapolis. The Mids still have not found any consistency on offense, and while the defense has played well at times and shown flashes, it’s been too much to ask of them to carry the team.

Air Force has to feel good about the way their team played across the board. For the first time all year, they did not have a defensive or special teams touchdown, but they didn’t need it.

We’ve already broken down the stats, but Hammond clearly provided a spark to this squad, much like he did last week in the fourth quarter attempting to comeback against Nevada. He has more than likely won this job, and in some ways, this has similarities to Keenan Reynolds winning the job for Navy in an epic performance against Air Force just a few years ago. Add that to a dominant defensive performance, and the Falcons have to like where their season is headed, even though they now sit at just 2-3.

Oh, and there is never a bad time to Sing Second!

CIC MVP Awards:

No need to delay the CIC MVP until tomorrow, as this was the only service academy game on the day, and the results speak for themselves.

Offense: Donald Hammond III, QB, Air Force

The Air Force QB started off shaky, but after coming back into the game following a first quarter injury, he led the team on 5 scoring drives, scoring 3 rushing TDs and adding a passing TD to Ronald Cleveland. He is the spark they have been looking for on offense, and has more than likely solidified himself as the starter moving forward.

Defense: Jordan Jackson, DT, Air Force

You could give this award to the entire defense. They were absolutely dominant, racking up the 8 TFL and forcing 7 three and outs and a turnover on downs. I’ll give it to Jackson though, because he had 3.5 of the 8 tackles for a loss to go with 7 total tackles on the day.

Special Teams: Owen White, P, Navy

Once again he was one of the lone bright spots for the Mids and it’s probably not a good thing when the punter is the MVP of the game, but White boomed his kicks all game long. Averaging nearly 50 yards a punt over the course of a 7 punt game and twice pinning the opponent inside the two on consecutive possessions is pretty dang good.

Overall MVP: Air Force Defense