Navy's run of dominance over service academies ends with 14-6 loss to Air Force

By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 3, 2010; 12:14 AM

COLORADO SPRINGS - Seven years of service-academy supremacy ended for Navy on Saturday, and amid the mayhem on the field at sold-out Falcon Stadium following the Midshipmen's 14-6 loss to Air Force stood senior co-captain Ricky Dobbs, who was trying to keep his chin up during the playing of each school's alma mater.

Moments earlier, the quarterback had thrown his second interception of the game, allowing Air Force to seal a cathartic victory before 47,565 and putting the Falcons in position to reclaim the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for the first time since 2002. The turnover was emblematic of Dobbs's erratic passing during a game in which he missed open teammates throughout and the offense languished during multiple trips inside the 20-yard line.

Navy reached that area three times but managed just two field goals, continuing a disturbing trend one season after the Midshipmen routinely scored touchdowns from close range. Counting Saturday's misfires, the Midshipmen have seven touchdowns in 19 red-zone chances.

"We had opportunities to score, but we couldn't execute on the goal line," said Dobbs, who completed 6 of 18 passes for 103 yards and rushed for 43 yards on 18 carries. "Those points right there we missed out on, and we missed a field goal later on, and that came back to haunt us."

Had Navy (2-2) been able to finish drives with touchdowns on an afternoon when the defense more than held its own, the special teams acrobatics from Air Force's Jamil Cooks perhaps wouldn't have been so decisive. Cooks vaulted himself over the Navy protection on a punt attempt early in the fourth quarter and blocked Kyle Delahooke's offering. The Falcons recovered at the Navy 15, and four plays later quarterback Tim Jefferson scored from one yard out with 12 minutes 38 seconds to play for the final margin.

For Navy to extend its unprecedented Commander-in-Chief's Trophy run to eight straight years, Army must beat Air Force (4-1) on Nov. 6 and the Midshipmen have to do the same against the Black Knights in the final game of the regular season. Army has only one win in its last 10 games against service academies.

Navy's offensive shortcomings were evident against Air Force. The Midshipmen ran for 209 yards after averaging nearly 273 over their first three games. They converted only 5 of 15 third-down chances, and recurring blunders with the end zone in sight left Navy without a touchdown against Air Force for the first time since 1976. The Midshipmen also failed to score a touchdown in a service academy game for the first time since 1987 and lost to a service academy for the first time in 16 games.

"We haven't felt this in a long time," Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said.

Early in the game, it looked as if Navy would get the upper hand when cornerback Kevin Edwards chased down running back Jared Tew (17 carries, 111 yards) after a 29-yard gain and popped the ball loose from behind. Edwards recovered at the Navy 43, and the Midshipmen got a 21-yard pass from Dobbs to wide receiver Greg Jones to the 20. Runs by Alexander Teich and Andre Byrd made it first and goal from the 4, but the drive yielded nothing when place kicker Joe Buckley hit the left upright on a 21-yard try.

Misfortune quickly followed again for the Midshipmen, who gave up a 28-yard run off a pitch to Asher Clark on the second play of Air Force's next possession and then a 50-yard touchdown run by Jefferson with 4:18 left in the first quarter. Jefferson took the snap from the shotgun and ran left, weaving through defenders before sprinting down the left sideline into the end zone, marking the first defensive touchdown Navy yielded to a service academy in 12 quarters plus one overtime.

"Usually we show up in big games," said Navy senior safety Wyatt Middleton, part of a defense that held Air Force to 22 points below its average. "We've just got to move on from this one."

The Midshipmen, who had won the previous seven against Air Force by an average of 5.7 points, also must regroup from one of the more physically demanding games this season. Starting right tackle Matt Molloy departed early in the second quarter with a concussion and did not re-enter. The senior had missed the past two games recovering from a concussion in the season opener against Maryland. Starting safety Emmett Merchant then exited for good in the second half with a concussion after he missed Navy's last game with the same ailment. Linebacker Aaron McCauley, nose guard Shane Bothel and defensive end Jabaree Tuani also left the game after getting hurt but came back.

"I feel for our players and our coaches and our program right now," Niumatalolo, who lost for the first time in three games against Air Force, said outside the locker room as the Cadets celebrated wildly a few yards away. "It was a hard-fought game. Like I said, Air Force played hard, too. Two teams that battled. It hurts to come out on the short end of the stick."

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