Fal­cons man­han­dle Mid­ship­men

Sopho­more QB leads rout in first leg of academy se­ries

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Bill Wag­ner

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. – You could call it the dis­as­ter in Colorado Springs.

An in­ef­fec­tive of­fense and a de­fense that wore down doomed the Mid­ship­men in the first leg of the Com­man­der-in-Chief’s Tro­phy se­ries. Sopho­more quar­ter­back D.J. Ham­mond di­rected an of­fense that got stronger as the game went along as Air Force seized con­trol in the sec­ond quar­ter in man­han­dling Navy, 35-7, be­fore an an­nounced crowd of 40,175 at Fal­con Sta­dium.

Ham­mond com­pleted 6 of 10 passes for 142 yards and a touch­down as the Fal­cons outscored the Mids 35-0 af­ter fall­ing be­hind early in the sec­ond pe­riod. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Ham­mond, who was listed third on the depth chart, also rushed for 60 yards and three scores for Air Force (2-3).

“It was just a good old-fash­ioned butt whoop­ing. Give Air Force all the credit. No ex­cuses. They beat the crap out of us,” Navy coach Ken Ni­u­mat­alolo said. “It’s hard to put into words. We’ve been play­ing these guys for a long time and that’s prob­a­bly the worst butt-whoop­ing we’ve got­ten. We got whooped all the way around. Ob­vi­ously, it started off with coach­ing.”

Ham­mond did al­most all his dam­age af­ter re­turn­ing fol­low­ing an in­jury suf­fered on his team’s sec­ond pos­ses­sion. Navy in­side line­backer Tay­lor He­flin was called for tar­get­ing for the hit that knocked Ham­mond out of the game with what ap­peared to be a con­cus­sion.

Ham­mond lay mo­tion­less on the field for a while and ap­peared woozy when he fi­nally was able to sit up. He had to be helped off the field by train­ers and was re­placed at quar­ter­back by ju­nior Isa­iah San­ders.

Con­sid­er­ing the na­ture of the in­jury and the fact He­flin was ejected from the game, it was some­what sur­pris­ing to see Ham­mond come back af­ter sit­ting out just one se­ries. It was a gutsy per­for­mance by a young­ster mak­ing his first ca­reer ap­pear­ance in a ser­vice academy con­test.

“I thought the kid played re­ally well. Tough run­ner and threw some nice balls… very im­pressed with him,” Ni­u­mat­alolo said.

Quar­ter­back Mal­colm Perry over­saw an em­bar­rass­ing of­fen­sive per­for­mance that pro­duced just six first downs and 119 to­tal yards through three quar­ters while the de­fense gave up sev­eral big plays.

“I think it was a mix­ture of poor ex­e­cu­tion on our be­half and Air Force had a good game-plan,” Perry said. “They came out and played well. We just didn’t ex­e­cute our game-plan as well as we should have.”

Navy’s lone touch­down came af­ter the vis­i­tors were given a short field by a poor punt. The Mid­ship­men (2-3) needed nine plays to move just 34 yards on that scor­ing drive.

So pro­found was the of­fen­sive fu­til­ity that Navy’s long­est drive of the day was 50 yards and re­sulted in a failed 57-yard field goal at­tempt by kicker Ben­nett Moehring.

Navy fin­ished with 178 to­tal yards and nine first downs, one of the worst of­fen­sive per­for­mances of the Ni­u­mat­alolo era. The Mid­ship­men gained 59 yards dur­ing garbage time in the fourth quar­ter to avoid their low­est out­put dur­ing the coach’s 11-year ten­ure.

Perry ran the ball 19 times for 54 yards, an av­er­age of just 2.8 carry. Eight other ball-car­ri­ers com­bined for 75 yards on 22 TV: Ra­dio: at­tempts.

“It wasn’t all Mal­colm’s fault. We’ve got to help him schemat­i­cally, we didn’t block great,” Ni­u­mat­alolo said. “They had a good plan and did a re­ally good job de­fen­sively. We tried to do some dif­fer­ent things and just couldn’t get any­thing go­ing.”

Ni­u­mat­alolo was asked af­ter­ward how con­cerned he is about the cur­rent state of the pro­gram.

“Very con­cerned. We’re not play­ing very well right now. We’ve got a lot to im­prove on as a team,” Ni­u­mat­alolo said. “We’ve just got to get bet­ter. We’ve got to go back to work. We have a long road and we’ve got to get bet­ter as a foot­ball team. I’ve got to coach bet­ter. We’re just not play­ing very well right now.”

It was a de­fen­sive strug­gle early with Navy go­ing three-and-out on three straight pos­ses­sions to start the game and Air Force also fail­ing to pick up a first down on its ini­tial three of­fen­sive se­ries.

Char­lie Scott’s sec­ond punt only trav­eled 25 yards and set up Navy at the Air Force 34-yard line. The Mid­ship­men took ad­van­tage of the short field with slot­back Tre Walker pick­ing up 10 yards to bring the ball into the red zone.

Backup quar­ter­back Gar­ret Lewis en­tered the game on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line and found a huge hole on the right side – div­ing into the end zone to give Navy the early lead. Moehring booted the ex­tra point and it was 7-0 at the 12:38 mark of the sec­ond quar­ter.

Air Force was forced to punt again on its fourth pos­ses­sion, but Navy went three-and­out for the fourth time in the game. That is when break­downs by the Navy de­fense led to a pair of big plays that put the Fal­cons ahead.

Corner­back Jarid Ryan and safety Jake Springer both got caught look­ing into the back­field on a play-ac­tion pass and that dual blown as­sign­ment left wide re­ceiver Ron­ald Cleve­land open in the flat. Cleve­land caught a short pass and raced un­touched into the end zone to com­plete a 61-yard scor­ing strike that tied the con­test at 7 with 7:04 re­main­ing in the first half.

Navy’s of­fen­sive strug­gles con­tin­ued on the en­su­ing pos­ses­sion with Perry mak­ing two mis­takes on one play. Perry did not give the ball to the full­back when he should have and did not throw the ball away af­ter es­cap­ing the tackle box, tak­ing a 6-yard loss. A false start penalty on cen­ter Ford Hig­gins guar­an­teed an­other three-and-out – fifth of the game for the Mids.

A ques­tion­able pass in­ter­fer­ence penalty on safety Sean Williams re­sulted in an 11-yard gain and two plays later run­ning back Joseph Saucier took a pitch and raced 48 yard. Jake Koehnke kicked his sec­ond ex­tra point and that put Air Force ahead, 14-7, with 5:18 to go in the sec­ond quar­ter.

It ap­peared Navy out­side line­backer Evan Focht­man got caught out of po­si­tion on the play as there was no Navy de­fender to cover the pitch.

“I thought we were play­ing well on de­fense, but we just got worn down be­cause we couldn’t get any­thing go­ing of­fen­sively,” Ni­u­mat­alolo said. “De­fen­sively, our guys just ran out of gas be­cause they were out on the field so much. We’re not go­ing to put that game on the de­fense. We have to play bet­ter on of­fense.”

Navy re­sponded with its long­est drive, mov­ing from its own 10 to the Air Force 25. Perry broke loose for a 20-yard gain off an op­tion keeper, but was speared by Air Force de­fen­sive back Dailen Sut­ton while he was down.

Perry had to leave and was re­placed by Lewis. An in­com­plete pass fol­lowed by a chop-block penalty ef­fec­tively ended the drive.

Air Force ba­si­cally put the game away with an im­pres­sive 7-play, 75-yard touch­down drive to start the sec­ond half. Ham­mond got things go­ing with a 13-yard pass to wide re­ceiver Ger­aud San­ders and fol­lowed with a 15-yard com­ple­tion to Saucier.

Backup full­back Taven Bir­dow broke loose up the mid­dle for a 27-yard gain that set up first-and-goal from the Navy 7-yard line. Ham­mond needed just two plays to score from 5 yards out to in­crease the Air Force lead to 21-7.

Perry di­rected an­other in­ef­fec­tive se­ries on the en­su­ing pos­ses­sion, which ended with Perry scram­bling and des­per­ately try­ing to throw the ball away. Perry suf­fered an an­kle in­jury on that fourth down play and had to leave.

Air Force fol­lowed with an­other 75-yard touch­down drive with this one last­ing 14 plays and 7:13. Ham­mond hooked up with San­ders for com­ple­tions of 19 and 23 yards on that ex­tended march, which made it 28-7 with 57 sec­onds left in third quar­ter.

Air Force out­gained Navy 162-6 dur­ing the third pe­riod. The Mid­ship­men’s fail­ure to con­vert on fourth down in their own ter­ri­tory gave the Fal­cons a short field and led to Ham­mond’s third rush­ing touch­down, a 2-yard run.

DOUGAL BROWNLIE/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Air Force quar­ter­back Isa­iah San­ders stiff-arms Navy corner­back Khay­lan Williams dur­ing the Fal­cons’ rout of the Mid­ship­men on Sat­ur­day. Air Force earned a vic­tory in the first leg of the Com­man­der-In-Chief ’s Tro­phy se­ries with Navy and Army.

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