Falcons manhandle Midshipmen
Sophomore QB leads rout in first leg of academy series
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.
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.