Air Force Football: CinC Trophy Returns

No matter what happens in Air Force's final two regular-season games and the bowl game, the Falcons have made a significant accomplishment this season.

INSIDE SLANT

Air Force won the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, given to the winner of the round robin between the three service academies, for the first time since 2002. Air Force beat Navy early in October and knocked off Army on Saturday.

That accomplishment is one of the measures of success for Air Force. Senior players said it was the highlight of their career, even better than winning a bowl game last year.

"It's good to come up here, and for our kids especially, to create a memory," coach Troy Calhoun said after Air Force claimed a 42-22 victory at Army. "That's what they did, through their work and through their dedication."

The victory at West Point took some of the sting away from a three-game losing streak that ended any chances Air Force had of winning the Mountain West title.

"Ecstatic," linebacker Jordan Waiwaiole said. "It's been too long since the trophy came back to us.

"The Commander-in-Chief's Trophy is huge for us, not to mention it helps steer us back on track to where we need to be after having a rough couple weeks."

Air Force should get to eight victories without much trouble. This week, the Falcons face New Mexico. Then they finish at UNLV. Those might be the two worst teams in the Mountain West.

While the Falcons had high hopes after a 5-1 start and a national ranking, eight victories with the chance to get another in a bowl game would be a fine season. Calhoun has taken the Falcons to bowl games in four consecutive seasons.

"It's way beyond my expectations when I hired Troy, I'll be honest," athletics director Hans Mueh said. "The first year, if he had gone 1-11, I still would have been sold on him.

"But he turned this program around immediately and has been very consistent in his approach to football games. We're in every game, basically. I'm very, very proud of what he's been able to do with these kids. They love him, he loves them, he loves the school. He's perfect for the institution."

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Falcons are bowl-eligible, and the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., seems like the most likely destination. "We would be honored and love to go to Shreveport," athletics director Hans Mueh said. "And they are ready to welcome us with open arms. But there's no such thing as a bad bowl game, so I don't really care. We'll see how that plays out."

--Sometimes, a little luck isn't a bad thing. Against Army, QB Tim Jefferson threw a deep post pass to Mikel Hunter. But the ball was underthrown and Jonathan Warzeka ran his route a little too deep, streaked in front of Hunter and caught the pass for 53-yard touchdown. "I'm not going to lie," Jefferson said. "There are some plays in college football that are great plays. There are some plays that are pure luck. That play was pure luck. I wasn't even throwing it to him."

--Air Force has gotten off to some poor starts this season, and fell behind, 6-0, to Army. But the Falcons held the Black Knights to field goals instead of touchdowns, then took over the game in the second quarter, scoring three touchdowns. "Once we got on all cylinders, we didn't look back," WR Jonathan Warzeka said.

GAME BALL GOES TO: WR Jonathan Warzeka -- The Falcons didn't bludgeon the Black Knights, even though they won by 20. Army had one more first down. The difference was two huge plays by Warzeka, a 53-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter and a 63-yarder in the third quarter. Those were Warzeka's only catches, and they turned the game in the Falcons' favor.

KEEP AN EYE ON: LB Brady Amack -- Amack had a very good game against Army, and seems to be benefiting from all the experience he has picked up this season. He was aggressive against the Black Knights' option attack. Air Force's linebackers haven't been aggressive enough at times this season. Amack, who suffered an ankle injury earlier this season, but didn't miss any games, and seems to be healthy again.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Hopefully what we've done is create something these guys can carry with them for quite some time." -- Coach Troy Calhoun, on winning the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: Air Force's defense looked much better, when it wasn't playing an elite opponent like TCU or Utah. There were some issues against Army's running game, but mostly Air Force did a solid job with its assignments and tackling. The Falcons also won the turnover battle 2-0, something that has been a staple for Air Force teams under Troy Calhoun, but had fallen off a bit this season.

STILL NEEDS WORK: QB Tim Jefferson and RB Asher Clark were a big part of the Falcons' offensive success early in the season, but each is in a little bit of a slump. Jefferson hit a few big plays in the passing game against Army, but his accuracy was off. Clark was on a 1,000-yard pace earlier this season, but struggled against some of the very good defenses the Falcons faced, and had mixed results against Army.

ROSTER REPORT:

--Starting NG Ryan Gardner returned from a groin injury and went right into the starting lineup. He is a big part of Air Force's defense, especially against the run, and the Falcons showed some improvement against Army.

--Starting FB Nathan Walker used to spell Jared Tew, but with Tew out, Walker has rarely gotten a break. Walker has responded well, and had his first 100-yard game against Army.

--QB Tim Jefferson was hurt for a few moments against Army after taking a huge hit after releasing a pass. He was checked for a concussion, but those tests were clean and he returned after missing the rest of that series.


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