After the Anchors Aweighs and Wild Blue Yonders had been played a thousand times, Air Force had stormed Navy's toy tank on the sideline and the flyboys and sailors were done cuffing each other around in the stands, the Midshipmen didn't really have grounds for more argument.
An Air Force football team ranked 13th in the nation may be even better than that, judging by the 24-7 defeat Navy suffered today before a record crowd of 35,663 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
The Falcons' swift little wishbone offense was good for 254 yards rushing and touchdown runs of three yards by Johnny Smith and three yards by Kelly Pittman in the second period, and a two-yard scoring run by Randy Jones in the fourth period. Tom Ruby added a 20-yard fourth quarter field goal as the Falcons improved to 6-0, winning the opening game in the three-team round-robin competition (including Army) for the Commander in Chief's Trophy.
Air Force's defense, ranked eighth in the nation in points allowed (11.4 per game), gave up only Bill Byrne's 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end John Sniffen at the start of the third quarter.
But much of the blame had to be shouldered by Navy's offense, which wasted three scoring opportunities deep in Air Force territory in what was an otherwise brilliant first quarter.
Navy (1-4) simply lacked conviction for the remainder of the contest. Byrne completed just nine of 24 passes for 94 yards, and was replaced by Bob Misch in the waning minutes. Usually sensational Napoleon McCallum was held to 67 yards on 15 carries, behind an offensive line that could make no headway.
"We didn't block them no matter what," Coach Gary Tranquill said. "We couldn't run and we couldn't throw. We threw away too many opportunities in the first quarter, and when that happens you get a feeling . . . We frittered away the opportunity to put points on the board."
Air Force took a 14-0 lead at the half on Smith's and Pittman's scoring runs after a fine defensive first period for Navy in which the Falcons were unable to gain a first down.
Navy then seemed enlivened on its first possession of the second half after a 36-yard field goal attempt by Ruby was wide for the Falcons.
The Midshipmen set out on a 10-play, 80-yard drive ending with Sniffen's spectacular catch in the end zone. McCallum, who had been held to 20 yards on nine carries in the first half, finally broke away on runs of 18 and 14 yards on the drive as the Midshipmen moved to the Air Force 10.
On third and 10, Byrne lofted the ball high into the end zone, Sniffen came across and brought it down between two defenders to make it 14-7 with 9:01 left in the third period.
The Midshipmen would not see the ball again, however, until the fourth quarter. Air Force put together a nickel-and-dime drive that took 21 plays and 10:22. It ended anticlimactically, with Ruby's 20-yard field goal after a goal line stand by Navy.
Air Force put the game out of reach with 6:40 remaining on Jones' two-yard scoring run. It ended a drive that went 77 yards in just 3:04, and really amounted to one play.
On first and 10 at the Air Force 29, defensive back Vernon Wallace, temporarily in for safety Marc Firlie, fell down. Tight end Hugh Brennan found himself alone along the sideline and Weiss completed the pass for a 53-yard gain to the Navy 18. Six plays later Jones scored on a pitch.
The game may have essentially been over when Navy came out of the first quarter without a point after spending most of it deep in Air Force's end of the field.
The Midshipmen got the ball on the Air Force 37 and 26 on consecutive possessions in the middle of the period after backing the Falcons up against their own end zone, but Navy failed to move both times. The Midshipmen also had driven to the Air Force 38 on their opening drive before punting.
The clincher might have come when they took over on the Air Force 26 after Mark Simon punted from deep in his end zone. Byrne completed a neat sideline pass to Mike Ray for 19 yards on third and six to get to the eight, but the Falcons toughened. McCallum picked up two, Byrne picked up two on a scramble to give Navy third and goal at the four.
Navy seemed to have a touchdown on the next play when Byrne appeared to complete a quick-in to John Lobb in the end zone, but a vicious hit by safety Scott Thomas knocked it loose, and it was ruled incomplete.
Todd Solomon came on to try a 21-yard field goal with 3:35 remaining in the period. But the snap was high and Solomon hooked it.
"It could have been 14-0," Tranquill said. "Three opportunities, and we came out with zip. You have to get at least one score out of it."
In the meantime, Navy gave Air Force no room to work with. The Midshipmen pinned the Falcons at the 11 and the one on consecutive first-period possessions, and at the seven in the opening of the second period.
Air Force was held to 10 yards rushing on eight attempts, and Weiss, who eventually completed two of seven for 113 yards and rushed for 102 yards on 24 attempts, was zero for one passing in the first quarter. The Falcons did not gain a first down until 13:53 of the second period.
"They did a good job on us," Air Force Coach Fisher DeBerry said. "It took us a little bit of time to figure out their schemes."
On Air Force's initial scoring drive, Weiss took the Falcons 93 yards in seven plays, culminating in Smith's three-yard touchdown run.
The key play was a 60-yard completion to receiver Ken Carpenter, who beat Firlie on a streak pattern down the middle of the field. Carpenter took it all the way to the five, and Smith scored two plays thereafter.
The Falcons scored again two series later, on Pittman's one-yard run with 56 seconds remaining in the half. His touchdown ended a lengthy drive that seemed to take all the spirit out of the Midshipmen. Weiss moved his team 44 yards in 14 plays, eating up 6:38 on the clock.
Along the way, the Falcons converted two fourth-down plays, the second on Pittman's scoring run in a fourth-and-goal situation.
Navy's offensive problems revived the possibility of using Misch more in place of Byrne, who appeared tentative and unable to find open receivers.
Tranquill said he considered starting Misch in the second half and will reevaluate his quarterbacks -- among other positions -- in practice. Misch, however, had knee surgery in the offseason and wears a heavy brace that limits his mobility.
"We'll have to see, won't we?" Tranquill said of his quarterbacks. " . . We have to evaluate a little more all around. It's an ongoing, daily thing."