There’s a goat prancing on the front of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, which is housed at the U.S. Naval Academy, and there’s a falcon and mule itching to replace it.
“Just the pride and playing for that is a pretty big deal,” Army coach Jeff Monken said. “I don’t know that there is a more important goal we have than winning the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy and trying to bring the trophy back here, so it makes it a big game.”
That big game, the second leg of the round-robin competition between the three service academies, will be staged Saturday at West Point when Air Force (5-3) visits Michie Stadium. The Falcons can win the coveted hardware, emblematic of supremacy among the three schools, for the 20th time with a victory since they dispatched the Middies 28-14 last month.
A victory by Army (5-3) would be doubly sweet: It would give the Black Knights six wins for only the second time in 20 years and give them the chance to win the trophy outright for only the seventh time since its inaugural year in 1972. Army plays Navy in December in their traditional season finale.
Air Force has had Army’s number in this series. The Falcons lead 35-14-1, have won all but two of the last 19 games, and are 13-10 at Michie Stadium.
Still, this Army team has been a resilient bunch and seems poised for a breakthrough in a game that will feature two of the top running teams in the nation. Army’s triple option is averaging 342.1 yards rushing to rank second nationally and Air Force is fifth at 295.9.
Two weeks ago, Army self-destructed with seven turnovers against North Texas and lost 35-18 at home to a team it had been heavily favored to beat. The Black Knights responded with a clutch victory last week at Wake Forest, dominating the fourth quarter in a comeback 21-13 victory that deprived the Demon Deacons of their sixth win of the season.
“They gave such a great effort and played the brand of football that we talk about — being tough and physical, and finishing every play and drive,” Monken said.
The Falcons are on the rebound, too. They defeated Fresno State 31-21 last week to snap a three-game losing streak in the Mountain West Conference.
“We’re a grizzled group. We’re the ultimate grinders football team,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “That’s our discipline. We will not absolutely razzle, dazzle. We’ve got really good workers.”
Other things to know when Air Force visits Army:
MISTAKES HURT: In its first four victories, Army did not commit a turnover. It had two against Wake Forest and still won, but in losses at Buffalo and Duke the Black Knights had six turnovers. On the season, turnover margin is a stalemate: Army has had seven interceptions and lost eight fumbles, while its defense has 12 interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
STOP THE RUN: Two of Air Force’s losses came against New Mexico and Wyoming. They’re the only teams that have rushed for more than 100 yards against the Falcons this season. The Lobos had 373 and the Cowboys 189.
WHO’S AT QB: The Falcons have a banged-up quarterback. Starter Nate Romine left the Fresno State game with an ankle injury, and sophomore Arion Worthman guided the Falcons to the win. He entered midway through the third quarter and ran for 102 yards and two touchdowns as the Falcons overcame a four-point deficit. Calhoun was noncommittal on his starter: “Who’s going to play out there is going to run our offense,” he said.
TIME HEALS: Both teams thrive on time of possession. Army has held the ball for an average of nearly 36 minutes a game, while Air Force is at just over 33 minutes to rank 21st nationally. The Falcons have won TOP in six games, five of them victories.
DEFENSIVE DUEL: The Army defense has allowed an average of only 16.5 points and ranks third in the country in total defense, allowing 266.8 yards per game. Air Force is 22nd in total defense (348.2). Air Force held Navy, who was fifth in the nation in rushing with a 316.3 average, to 57 yards on the ground.
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