Photo: Air Force quarterback Haaziq Daniels
By TOM SHANAHAN
Air Force won the first leg of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy with a 40-7 win over Navy on Saturday in Colorado Springs. If we’re to believe Army coach Jeff Monken, that was still news to him on Tuesday afternoon.
He was asked during his weekly media session for his reaction to the Falcons’ surprisingly easy win and how he plans to keep his Black Knights (3-1) from looking past Saturday’s home game against The Citadel. Air Force can clinch the CiC when it travels to West Point Nov. 7 at Michie Stadium.
“Did they play last weekend?” Monken said. “I wasn’t aware.”
He was joking, right? Yes, coach, but what about not overlooking this week’s game?
“We play The Citadel,” he said in his best Bill Belichickian “on to Cincinnati” monotone.
Monken, now in his seventh West Point season, has balanced out the CiC competition. Army hadn’t won the CiC since 1996 until the Black Knights brought it home back-to-back years, 2017 and 2018. Navy reclaimed it last year. Air Force won the CiC in 2016.
There is more anticipation for the second leg than there has been in recent years. For too long the winner of the Air Force-Navy game played in early October could essentially book its trip to the White House before facing Army in early November.
So, wondering how Army is processing not only an Air Force victory but a decisive one despite playing its first game of the year with an inexperienced roster is a question for the media and fans to ponder.
Air Force seemed like an underdog entering the game. The Mountain West Conference member played its first game of the year while Navy (1-2) split games against BYU and Tulane. In fact, Air Force thought it was only playing two games this season until a week ago.
The Mountain West had announced in August it was postponing its season until the spring, while at the same time it gave Air Force a waiver to maintain its CiC series. But like the Big Ten and Pac-12, the Mountain West recently reversed course to resume play.
The Falcons rolled up 410 yards under sophomore quarterback Haaziq Daniels, wo made is first start. Junior fullback Timothy Jackson ran 19 times for 120 yards, sophomore running back Brad Roberts 10 times for 103 and a touchdown and Daniels 10 for 96 and a TD.
“Obviously our work ethic and I thought we competed hard,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “The grit and the toughness. Yet we’ve got a lot of work to do. We have to make improvement. We just shared that with them. We have to grow and grow immensely. It was beyond remarkable in terms of the job our coaches did.”
Navy regroups for AAC play, beginning Saturday at home against Temple. The Army-Navy Game is Dec. 12 in Philadelphia.
“We got our butts whipped all the way around,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo told the Capital Gazette. “They whipped us coaching, playing. There’s not much more to say. We just got our butts whipped. They really took it to us It hurts to lose to Air Force and lose this way — in a convincing manner. It’s disheartening.”
Air Force also looked good in uniforms designed to honor the Red Tails, the Tuskegee Airmen from World War II. The military was still segregated until 1948. Calhoun, an Air Force graduate, loved the uniforms for their style and history.
“I really appreciate you asking,” Calhoun said of question about the uniforms. “You think about the heritage of the Air Force. The admiration you have for courage, skill and patriotism — those are our guys. To be able to look up to the Red Tails and the history of the Tuskegee Airmen, goodness, it’s humbling to say the least.”
Air Force is off the next two weeks before playing the first of its six conference games on Oct. 24 at San Jose State.
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