ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A strange week ended with a bitter defeat for Air Force.
The Falcons played a solid first half, then went scoreless over the final 30 minutes in a 28-10 loss to Navy on Saturday.
Although the Department of Defense has suspended athletic competition at the nation’s service academies because of the government shutdown, an exception was made for this event because it was funded by non-appropriated money.
Word that the game would be played didn’t come until late Wednesday night.
Air Force (1-5) might have been better off staying at home, but coach Troy Calhoun refused to blame the irregular circumstances for the defeat.
“We planned and prepared like we would any week,” Calhoun said. “Nothing changed about the preparation. The game was able to be played when it was scheduled.”
The reason Air Force lost was because it was outscored 21-0 in the second half. Period.
“The better team won today, especially when you look at the second half,” Calhoun said. “There is no doubt there was a difference in the last two quarters.”
Keenan Reynolds ran for 126 yards and three touchdowns for the Midshipmen (3-1) and Chris Johnson had two interceptions for a defense that allowed only 111 yards in the second half.
On a magnificent fall afternoon, a record crowd of 38,225 filled Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium for this pivotal matchup. The previous 16 winners of this game have gone on to win the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy, awarded annually to the service academy with the best record in games involving Air Force, Navy and Army.
Navy has won the trophy twice in a row, and now the Midshipmen are poised to do it again.
Reynolds returned from a concussion to successfully run the triple-option in addition to going 6 for 10 for 54 yards through the air.
Air Force (1-5) has lost five straight. The Falcons got a solid performance from a defense that had allowed an average of 48.75 points in its previous four games, but the offense was limited to a season-low in points.
After racking up 13 first downs in the first half, Air Force got only six thereafter.
Navy opened the second half with a 75-yard drive that ended with a 38-yard touchdown run by Demond Brown for a 14-10 lead.
A series of punts followed until Air Force fullback Broam Hart was stuffed for no gain on fourth-and-2 from the Navy 34 on the second play of the fourth quarter.
“The biggest key play was that we did not convert the fourth-and-2 play with a one-score game,” Calhoun lamented.
Reynolds then directed a 66-yard march in which he twice converted third downs, once on a 17-yard run and the other with a 12-yard completion. On the 11th play of the drive, he ran in from the 2.
Air Force’s next three possessions ended in turnovers. After the second one, an interception by Johnson, Reynolds ran in from the 10 with 4:37 remaining.
The Falcons led 10-7 at halftime after running 43 plays compared to only 23 for Navy and holding the ball for nearly 21 of 30 minutes.
“We didn’t execute like we should have on offense,” Reynolds said. “I made a few dumb plays, a few mistakes.”
Air Force dominated in the early going, opening with a 13-play march that produced a field goal. The Falcons’ second possession carried from their own 13 to Navy’s 32 before Will Conant came up short on a 50-yard field goal try.
After being limited to a total of 33 yards on their first two drives, the Midshipmen finally got their offense working. Reynolds coordinated a six-play, 71-yard drive that ended with the quarterback running in from the 3 to make it 7-3.
Air Force answered with a 79-yard drive capped by an 18-yard run by Anthony LaCoste.
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