Air Force faces personnel questions for Navy’s visit

NCAA Football

Air Force will become the first Mountain West Conference team to play a college football game this season when the Falcons take the field in Colorado Springs against Navy on Saturday.

It’s the first leg in the annual competition for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, contested among the three service academy teams. For the moment, Air Force has only two games on its schedule — this one and at Army on Nov. 7. That will change when the Mountain West Conference announces the schedule for its abbreviated football season, which will resume Oct. 24.

A key challenge for the Falcons, last year’s Cheez-It Bowl champions, will be establishing depth. “Turnbacks,” generally explained as the option to leave the academy for a semester for medical reasons — and in this case, offered to cadets in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — have decimated the football roster, especially on defense.

And on offense, two-year starter Donald Hammond III is not expected to suit up, as he is not in good standing as a cadet, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported.

“We’re working through that, and that probably goes for a good number of spots,” Falcons coach Troy Calhoun said Tuesday about situation at the quarterback position. “We’re going to have some guys in certain positions, probably more so on the defensive side of the ball … the other thing that we’re going to have to balance is just the involvement of the special teams part of it.”

Air Force leads the all-time series 30-22 and is 18-7 at Falcon Stadium against the Midshipmen. The Falcons have won eight consecutive games going back to last season, which matches Notre Dame for the nation’s longest active winning streak.

The Midshipmen (1-1) should have a significant advantage having played twice, and they have already been through a season full of emotion. Following their forgettable opener, a 55-3 pounding by visiting BYU on Sept. 7, coach Ken Niumatalolo sent his team through full-contact workouts, blaming himself for backing off contact work in the unusual preseason.

The following week, the Midshipmen promptly fell behind Tulane 24-0. At halftime, Navy was a team that had been outscored 79-3 in six quarters of play.

Yet, the Middies responded oh-so positively after that. Navy put together the largest comeback in school history, scoring 27 unanswered points in the second half to overtake the Green Wave, 27-24.

Now they head to Colorado Springs for one of their two most important games of the season.

Navy has lost three consecutive games in Colorado Springs, but a win on Saturday would be No. 100 in Niumatalolo’s career. He’d be the sixth active college coach to reach 100 wins at one institution.

Niumatalolo has seven career wins over Air Force in his 12 previous seasons. His teams have won six Commander-in-Chief’s Trophies, while Air Force has won four in that time and Army two.

“It’s never about me. I’m just the head coach. It’s a program deal,” he said this week.

Only Air Force cadets will be allowed to attend the game, and the Falcons will wear uniforms inspired by the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.

–Field Level Media

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