The Washington Post Sunday

Mids run aground:



Offense stalls in loss, then Navy fires OC.

The field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium was awash with American flags Saturday as every player on Navy and Air Force sprinted out of the tunnel carrying the red, white and blue. Two Navy players carried the Marine Corps flag and the Navy flag. Halftime featured 135 midshipmen carrying a 65-by-120-foot flag surrounded by spinning red, white and blue stars as “America the Beautiful” was performed by the Navy and Air Force Drum & Bugle Corps. Outside of the venue, an artist drew the flag in the middle of a 9/11 memorial depiction.

The 54th meeting between Navy and Air Force was more than just a typical game between rivals as Saturday was the 20th anniversar­y of the 9/11 attacks. Throughout the game, moments were taken to commemorat­e the deadliest attack on U.S. soil and to remember the 14 Naval Academy graduates and two Air Force graduates who lost their lives. The stands and grassy hill behind the north end zone were filled with an announced 36,997 people, the 10thlarges­t crowd in stadium history.

The football product was not as elaborate, as both teams were offensivel­y challenged in a 23-3 Air Force victory that gave the Falcons back-to-back wins against Navy for the first time since 2010 and 2011. The three points match the fewest Navy has scored in the series against Air Force.

“Tough loss,” Navy Coach Ken Niumatalol­o said. “I thought we played well enough on defense. Obviously, we didn’t get anything going offensivel­y. We had 36 yards rushing, we’re a rushing team.

“Any loss is hard. Service academy losses are really, really hard.”

The Navy offense had major issues for the second consecutiv­e week as the team has scored a combined 10 points in eight quarters of football. Dating back to the end of the 2020 season, the Midshipmen have scored 23 points in their last five games.

The continued offensive struggles were enough that offensive coordinato­r Ivin Jasper was fired after the game by Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk, according to a person close to Jasper. This was his 14th year as offensive coordinato­r and 20th as quarterbac­ks coach. Jasper had been with the program for 22 years and was credited for helping rejuvenate the program over the last decadeplus.

The university declined to comment through a spokespers­on.

Navy took a 3-0 lead with 10:36 left in the second quarter thanks a 12-yard punt by Air Force that set the Mids up at the Falcons 38-yard line. Bijan Nichols knocked through a 23-yard field goal seven plays later, and that was as good as it got for the Navy offense. The Midshipmen managed just 68 total yards and six first downs. The 68 yards are the fewest by Navy since 1966.

Starting quarterbac­k Xavier Arline was benched midway through the fourth quarter after the team trailed 23-3 and had not completed a single pass. The Mids moved into Air Force territory just once in their first 11 drives before switching quarterbac­ks to Maasai Maynor. Last week’s starting quarterbac­k, Tai Lavatai, did not play due to injury. Navy was sacked five times in the game.

Arline finished with 31 rushing yards on 16 attempts but was 0 for 5 through the air and was sacked twice. Fullback James Harris totaled 17 rushing yards on eight carries.

Navy linebacker Diego Fagot had a game-high 13 tackles, and linebacker Will Harbour finished with nine.

“Air Force’s defense did a good job,” Arline said. “Give credit to them. Threw a lot of different defenses out there. None that we haven’t seen before. But I mean, there’s really no excuse . . . . We’ve got to get going on offense. I have no doubt that we will, but it’s got to happen.”

Slot back Chance Warren added, “We were prepared coming in for all that, but we just didn’t execute . . . . Just kind of felt like we were in quicksand.”

Things weren’t much better for the Air Force offense as it punted on its first five drives of the game and missed a 35-yard field goal on its sixth. The Falcons’ first score also came courtesy of a shanked punt — 19 yards off the foot of Kellen Grave de Peralta. Air Force took over on the Navy 43-yard line, and Brad Roberts punched in a three-yard touchdown run nine plays later to give the Falcons a 7-3 lead with 1:09 left before halftime. Those seven points would prove enough, but Air Force took advantage of more Navy miscues to add a cushion.

“This win feels like a long time coming,” Air Force linebacker Demonte Meeks said. “Coming out here and doing what we needed to do to come away with a win feels amazing . . . . We stayed aggressive, stayed on our keys and didn’t go outside of ourselves. That really was a key for us.”

Quarterbac­k Haaziq Daniels scored on a 28-yard run just before the end of the third quarter after a roughing the punter penalty extended the drive. The Falcons grabbed two more points on the ensuing possession when Navy snapped the ball over the punter’s head and through the end zone to push the lead to 16-3. Roberts wrapped up the scoring with a two-yard touchdown run with 9:13 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Roberts totaled 97 yards and two scores on 29 rushes, while Daniels added 51 and a score. Daniels passed for 49 yards while completing 3 of 10 passes.

“It was a great atmosphere, you know, capacity crowd,” Niumatalol­o said about the 9/11 anniversar­y. “It’s great to see, just for the reason that we’re here. Rememberin­g 9/11. I think for our country, there’s so much divisivene­ss now. I think it was cool for a day just to put all of that aside. Put all the politics, put all of that stuff aside, and we’re all Americans. Not Democrat or Republican. Not White, Black, Brown. None of it. Just remember 9/11.”

 ?? PHOTOS BY JONATHAN NEWTON/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Navy quarterbac­k Maasai Maynor is stopped for a loss in the fourth quarter. The Midshipmen have scored just 10 points in two games.
PHOTOS BY JONATHAN NEWTON/THE WASHINGTON POST Navy quarterbac­k Maasai Maynor is stopped for a loss in the fourth quarter. The Midshipmen have scored just 10 points in two games.
 ??  ?? “Any loss is hard. Service academy losses are really, really hard,” Ken Niumatalol­o said.
“Any loss is hard. Service academy losses are really, really hard,” Ken Niumatalol­o said.

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