Air Force hopes for some clutch plays against Navy

FRANK SCHWAB Updated: September 27, 2010 at 12:00 am • Published: September 27, 2010

One of the unusual statistics from the Air Force-Navy rivalry is the Falcons are 1-7 since 2002, and have outscored the Midshipmen by five points in those eight games.

Seven losses have come by a total of 36 points. Only one game of the past seven has been decided by more than a touchdown, and that was an 11-point Air Force loss. Air Force wouldn’t feel any better about its seven-game losing streak against Navy if it lost each game by three touchdowns, but the many near0misses have been excruciating.  

“They’ve had our number the past seven years or so,” backup quarterback and special-teams ace Ben Cochran said. “Looking back on those games, I feel like we’ve hurt ourselves in those games.”

There always seem to be a couple of key plays that cost Air Force. Erik Soderberg missed an overtime field goal last year. There were two blocked punts for touchdowns in 2008. Three penalties in 2007 knocked the Falcons out of range for a go-ahead score in the fourth quarter.

Navy always seems to capitalize on the Falcons’ errors, but the Midshipmen have no idea why.

“We’ve just had a way to make a few more plays,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “I can’t put my finger on it. We work hard, but they work hard too.”

“I couldn’t tell you,” Navy safety Wyatt Middleton said. “I know the coaches here get us to play one play at a time, and do your job, but I just couldn’t tell you.”

Air Force could be in better position this year to make some clutch plays. The Falcons showed a lot of mettle at Wyoming last week. Air Force got two timely turnovers, and converted four of five fourth-down opportunities, including all three in the fourth quarter of a comeback win.

Falcons coach Troy Calhoun said he didn’t know if “being clutch” is real, mostly because he hopes his players make plays throughout a game, not just with the game on the line. But there were some key plays that showed a lot of poise, whether it was Asher Clark’s dive for a first down on fourth and 7, Jonathan Warzeka’s block that led the way for Clark, cornerback Reggie Rembert finding a way to force a fumble or safety Jon Davis managing to recover it even though he was “the last guy in that pile,” as Calhoun said.

If a pressure situation arises Saturday – and many games against the longtime service academy rivals are tight – perhaps Air Force will make the plays it hasn’t been able to make over the past seven years.

“I’ve always thought it’s important just being able to execute regardless of the situation,” Calhoun said. “But there’s some things (against Wyoming) that made you say, ‘That took some savvy.’”

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