LAPSE OF MEMORY. Air Force took a step toward winning yet another CIC trophy with its 48-7 devastation of Navy in Falcon Stadium and in doing so may have learned two valuable lessons the first being: stick with your strengths. Inexplicably, on the game's first play from scrimmage at the Falcons' twenty yard line, AFA ran a toss reverse to HB Leotis Palmer which netted the home team a tidy thirteen yard loss. The Falcons eschewed their customary option based ground attack for football gadgetry. The first series ended with Air Force punting to Navy and was followed by a smartly executed drive resulting in a Navy TD.
Navy QB Craig Candeto mixed pass completions, option keepers and a fine run by Kyle Eckel to engineer a drive in which Navy navigated through Air Force defenders and made the Falcons' defense seem lost at sea.
The combination of Air Force quarterback Chance Harridge producing the best day of his young career, a voracious AFA defense harassing Navy into committing three turnovers and the punishing assault of a 429 yard ground game yielded the Falcons' sixth straight win in regular season play and the academy's eleventh consecutive victory in CIC competition.
REVERSAL OF FORTUNE. A glimpse at the game's final score belies how great a challenge Air Force faced, and overcame, in defeating its service academy brethren. After surrendering a TD to Navy on the Middies' first possession of the game Air Force scored twenty-four points to assume a 24-7 halftime lead. You needed to be in Falcon Stadium on Saturday afternoon to appreciate fully the inequity reflected by the score at halftime.
The ease and effectiveness with which Navy moved the ball on its first drive recalled, all too eerily for AFA fans, the lassitude of the Falcons' defense in 2001. Point totals of 44 by Oklahoma, 63 by BYU, 52 by New Mexico and 52 by Hawaii came rushing back in witnessing Navy's guile and creativity.
Late in the first quarter AFA's Robert Barkers punted a ball which hopped, skipped, jumped and finally rolled dead at the Navy one yard line. It appeared AFA was about to win its first skirmish in the battle for field position. Navy dodged the bullet of having to punt the ball just three plays later after AFA committed a personal foul which carried Navy out of the shadow of its own goalpost uprights. A Candeto to Tony Lane pass completion ended with Wes Crawley forcing a fumble which was recovered by LB Trevor Hightower. The ensuing AFA drive resulted in a 34 yard FG by Joey Ashcroft.
Crawley came to the rescue again on Navy's next possession when he scooped up a fumble at the Air Force forty-eight yard line and sprinted, untouched, 52 yards down the West sideline for an AFA touchdown. Yes, the score at that point was 10-7 in AFA's favor, but the offense hadn't contributed much to the effort and Navy had shown the ability to move the ball even though it repeatedly shot itself in the foot by committing fumbles.
On balance, Navy's offense was more productive than that of the Falcons in the first half and AFA's lead was attributable in largest measure to the defense rather than the offense. The score so comfortably favored Air Force at halftime that it failed to show that, Navy was, in fact, the better team for most of the first half of play. There was no such imbalance in the second half as Air Force moved the ball at will. Richard Bell's defense continues to show that it has smartly distanced itself from the ineffectual impostors who masqueraded as defenders last fall for the Falcons. The second piece of wisdom Air Force needs to draw from its first half performance against Navy is that if such an exhibition is put on display against BYU, Notre Dame or CSU there will be no skein of forty-eight unanswered points to save the day for the Falcons.
BRIGHT SPOTS. Air Force initiated five drives in the second half. One ended with a field goal, three others produced TDs. The fifth drive ended when time expired with AFA deep inside Navy territory. Chance Harridge had a marvelous afternoon as he ran for 4 TDs and tore through an attempted naval blockade for 161 yards on the ground.
With HB Leotis Palmer held in check on the day and his running mate Anthony Butler missing the game due to an ankle injury, it was left to other AFA running backs to carry the day. C3C Darnell Stephens--9/52 on the day--and C4C Matt Ward a brilliant--9/66/1TD--exemplified the depth and speed AFA has this year in the backfield. Ward scored the game's last TD and did so twice. Ward scampered outside the right tackle into the endzone on a short burst in the fourth quarter, but AFA was assessed a fifteen yard penalty on the play. With the ball now on the Navy 18 yard line, Ward this time took the ball, darted to his left, past the tight end and into the opposite corner of the endzone. Stephens and Ward pitched in for a solid 18/118/6.55/1TD on the day and served notice to all AFA opponents that this year's ground attack will be more diversified than in past years. Offensive coordinator Chuck Petersen's game plans continue to showcase AFA's talent and depth at the halfback position far more frequently than was the case with teams of the late 1990s. Thirty-seven percent of the carries on Saturday were registered by HBs and came on a day when Leotis Palmer was uncharacteristically unproductive and Anthony Butler did not play.
The message to other teams is clear: concentrate on stopping the Falcons' QBs and FBs and Air Force will run the ball quite effectively with the HBs, thank you very much.
Chance Harridge had an effective day throwing the ball. He hit six of seven passes for 107 yards. Harridge and Alec Messerall combined on a 44 yard bomb early in the second half which led directly to an AFA TD the following play on an eight yard run by Harridge. Later in the half Anthony Park made a spectacular, flying, parallel to the ground snag of a Harridge pass to sustain a drive which culminated in an Air Force touchdown. TE Adam Strecker made a pair of catches. Leotis Palmer even made his first catch of the season. Harridge's efforts on the day gave the first indication of improvement in his passing game this fall. The Falcons will need to improve their ability to move the ball with the passing game in order to beat the nationally prominent teams they will face in October.
GAME BALL AWARDS. On offense this one is the proverbial "no brainer." AFA's option attack is predicated on the notion that the team's QB will be asked to run and pass the ball effectively. Running the ball is usually no problem for the fleet, athletic players who man the QB spot for AFA. Throwing the ball can be another story. AFA's passing game was weak through the first four games of the season. While Saturday's totals against Navy were by no means record setting, they were marked improvements over the totals posted in August and September. For his 161 yard rushing performance--highlighted by four TDs--and supported by more than one hundred yards in pass receptions, Chance Harridge is awarded a game ball. Harridge continues to lead the team effectively whether it is comfortably ahead or facing a ste