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Navy Football: Midshipmen pull off a nail-biting win over Air Force in first leg of CiC race

Navy’s passing game and strong defense were able to hold off Air Force until the very last second...literally.

Air Force at Navy Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

You could say it was the old-fashioned home turf advantage, or you could just say it was good play calling on both sides of the ball. Either way, Navy was the team to come out victorious in the first leg of the Commander-In-Chief’s trophy against Air Force, Saturday afternoon, 34-25.

This was precisely the win Navy needed after falling to Memphis last week. The first glimpse of the Mids’ on-fire defense was when Evan Fochtman got his first career interception in the first quarter after sniping an intended pass from DJ Hammond III to Benjamin Waters. Shortly after this turnover, Navy had their first fumble of the day on their own 29-yard line. Mosese Fifita would recover it to give the Falcons possession again, but it was only 3 plays before Air Force fumbled themselves. However, after scooping up the fumble, Jackson Pittman fumbled it right back and the Falcons got the ball back and a new set of downs.

Enter in—Jake Koehnke, a name that was heard through the loud speakers all afternoon, as he racked up four field goals on the day, including a career-high 49-yard field goal early on in the second half. His first attempt was from 42 yards away and put Air Force up 3-0 in the early going.

Navy, however, got their groove going at the start of the second quarter when Nelson Smith marched in with an easy 1-yard TD after two beautiful Malcom Perry passes to Mychal Cooper on back-to-back plays for 38 and 24-yard gains.

With Navy ranked first in the country in rushing offense and Air Force in second, it was actually Navy’s effectiveness in the pass rush and passing that solidified the win. Malcolm Perry’s arm started to make an appearance at the end of the first half. He totaled 114 passing yards and was 4-4 through the first two quarters. Air Force, on the other hand didn’t take too many risks and rather consistently went up the center. Hammond only netted 60 passing yards, completing 3-of-9 attempts.

By the end of the half, Navy would score another touchdown thanks to a 3-yard touchdown run by Nelson Smith, following another nice completion from Perry to Cooper, this one for 28 yards. This was Smith’s second TD of the game despite only rushing for 17 yards during the first half.

Perry’s passing game wasn’t the only credit to Navy’s win. The Midshipmen defense played well, keeping Air Force to 108 rushing yards in comparison to Navy’s 214. Diego Fagot tabled a career-high of 12 tackles while Paul Carothers netted 12 of his own, in his first career start no less.

Air Force’s drive at the top of the third quarter was a bit shaky after Hammond made an incomplete pass to Geraud Sanders and was then sacked by Carothers for a loss of seven yards. Without many choices left, the Falcons went for the field goal and Koehnke crushed the kick from 49-yards out. The Mids took control again from there, scoring on a 20 yard rushing TD by Perry to go up 21-9.

The Falcons could hardly make their third and fourth down conversions and seemed to fall into the comfortable choice of going for the field goal attempt—even at the top of the fourth quarter. However, the Air Force offense got going and brought the score to within two points with just under eight minutes left in the game, finally finding the endzone with Hammond extending his arm over the goal line to bring the score to 21-19.

Taven Birdown punched in a one-yard run on the ensuing Air Force possession to put the Falcons up 25-21 late in the fourth quarter.

With just over three minutes left in the game and two timeouts, Malcolm Perry led the Midshipmen down the field on an 11 play, 75-yard drive to take the lead, 28-25. The drive was filled with acrobatic catches by Navy’s slotbacks and incredible play-making by Perry. 17 seconds would not be enough for the Falcons to come back, as they fumbled the ball away at the end, which was scooped up by Tony Brown and returned for a TD as time expired, giving the Mids a 34-25 victory.

An impressive win by Navy means the team’s first win in the race for the highly coveted Commander-In-Chief’s trophy in 2019, ensuring the trophy will not be returning to Colorado Springs this year and giving Navy the chance to bring it back to Annapolis for the first time since 2015 if they defeat Army at the end of the season.