COLORADO SPRINGS — Daiquan Thomasson’s body language might as well have spoken for the entire Navy football team moments after the safety missed a tackle late in the fourth quarter, allowing Air Force running back Tim McVey to escape for a 62-yard touchdown.
With his arms on his hips and his head hanging while he stood in the end zone, Thomasson was in a fog as he watched Navy’s service academy rival celebrate on the way to a 28-14 drubbing at Falcon Stadium. It was the last moment of ignominy Saturday afternoon for the Midshipmen defense, which allowed 430 total yards, including 163 on five catches to wide receiver Jalen Robinette.
Navy’s vaunted rushing attack didn’t hold up its end, either. Ranked fifth in the country entering the game, the Midshipmen managed just 57 yards on the ground, nearly 260 below their average. Navy didn’t score until 8:33 remained and then added a cosmetic touchdown with 10 seconds to play.
In losing the first leg of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition, the Midshipmen (3-1) will retain the hardware only if they defeat Army and the Black Knights do the same to Air Force. An announced crowd of 43,063 also witnessed the end of Navy’s five-game winning streak, dating from last year, amid three turnovers, including two interceptions from quarterback Will Worth.
“You have to give Air Force all the credit,” Coach Ken Niumatalolo said after Navy gained its fewest rushing yards since 2002. “I’m not going to take anything away. They came out and beat us. They got after us. We had a hard time moving the ball.”
The Falcons (4-0), on the other hand, encountered no such issues, especially in the second half and particularly through the air. Air Force amassed 257 passing yards, more than twice its average, after beginning the day ranked 123rd of 128 schools in major college football.
A 75-yard scoring pass from quarterback Nate Romine to Robinette allowed the Falcons to forge a 17-0 lead with 4:40 left in the third quarter, capitalizing on the second Navy turnover. Robinette beat cornerback Cameron Bryant over the middle, broke a tackle and then avoided Thomasson and safety Alohi Gilman to the end zone.
McVey’s long scoring catch put the Falcons ahead 28-7 with 6:23 left in a game that featured both service academies as unbeatens for the first time in series history.
Following a first half in which both teams labored to move the ball, Air Force emerged the much more lively bunch. The Falcons marched 78 yards on 10 plays during their first possession of the third quarter, with McVey scoring on a one-yard run with 9:57 to play.
Navy reached the Air Force 38-yard line on its ensuing possession, but Worth threw an ill-advised pass that senior safety Weston Steelhammer intercepted, setting up Robinette’s long touchdown. Steelhammer had missed the first half against Navy while serving a suspension for targeting that carried over from the Falcons’ last game, a 27-20 victory over Utah State.
“We didn’t play really well in the first half offensively,” Air Force Coach Troy Calhoun said. “But we went in [the locker room], we settled in a little more and did a good job in the second half. We’re learning the importance of playing the duration of the game.”
Air Force collected the only points of the first half on place kicker Luke Strebel’s 36-yard field goal with 4:29 to go until intermission. The Falcons had reached the Navy 8-yard line after blocking a punt and recovering at the 12, but Robinette, a senior, was assessed a personal foul for a shoving safety Sean Williams.
That infraction pushed the ball back to the 23, and Air Force managed only four yards from there.
Navy went into halftime without a point for the first time since Sept. 29, 2012, in a 12-0 loss to San Jose State.
Compounding matters was a right ankle injury to Midshipmen starting linebacker Daniel Gonzales. The senior co-captain had to be assisted off the field late in the second quarter and did not reenter. Gonzales was tied for the team lead in tackles with Micah Thomas after the first three games.
“I mean it sucks, but we can’t focus on that anymore,” Navy senior defensive end Amos Mason said of the possibility of surrendering the CIC Trophy. “This game is over. We have to focus on [sixth-ranked] Houston [on Saturday] because that team, they’re probably the best team on our schedule.”