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Air Force quarterback Nate Romine has opportunity to build legacy with Navy coming to town

September 27, 2016 Updated: September 28, 2016 at 9:40 am
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photo - Air Force quarterback Nate Romine, front, is stopped after a short gain by Colorado State linebacker Aaron Davis in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game at Air Force Academy, Colo., on Friday, Nov. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Air Force quarterback Nate Romine, front, is stopped after a short gain by Colorado State linebacker Aaron Davis in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game at Air Force Academy, Colo., on Friday, Nov. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) 

Nate Romine has won games at quarterback in each of the past four seasons.

Air Force has prevailed in the past six games he's started.

He already has 1,318 passing yards, and with at least 21 games remaining before he's finished is on pace to easily crack the program's all-time top five.

The California native has a chance to leave a legacy few in Falcons' history can match. But one thing has to happen for all of that to matter.

"For a quarterback's legacy you've got to beat Navy," tailback Jacobi Owens said. "You've got to beat Navy."

The Air Force quarterbacks who have guided the team to a single Commander-in-Chief's Trophy include some of the most prolific in team history. Bart Weiss, Jarvis Baker, Beau Morgan, Keith Boyea, Chance Harridge and Kale Pearson each did it. But to do it twice, that's the program's pantheon at the position - Marty Louthan, Dee Dowis, Rob Perez, Blane Morgan, Mike Thiessen and Tim Jefferson.

Romine still has a chance to crack either list after he was given an extra year of eligibility last year following a medical turnback after a knee injury. And perhaps no opportunity is better than this year, with Air Force featuring 32 seniors on an experienced roster and catching Navy at Falcon Stadium. Of course, a victory at West Point would have to follow to secure the trophy and Army (3-1) is off to its best start in years; but the trophy has resided with the winner of the Air Force/Navy tilt 19 times in a row, so it obviously starts here.

"As a competitor here you pride yourself on beating those guys," said Romine, whose lone start in a service academy game came in a 42-28 victory over Army in 2013 when he was just five months removed from reporting for basic training. "That doesn't mean go 2-10 and the only wins are against Navy and Army, but it's a really cool thing to be able to do."

A victory Saturday would easily qualify as the signature win thus far in Romine's career. It's not that he hasn't had a few memorable ones - from that Army game in his second career start, to beating No. 21 Colorado State in a relief appearance in 2014, to a key Week 2 win against San Jose State last year in which he suffered the knee injury in the fourth quarter, to helping the Falcons snap Utah State's 11-game league home winning streak this past week - but the masterpiece, he feels, awaits.

"There have been pieces of every game where I feel like I've done something good," Romine said. "I'm looking forward to being more consistent and having a complete game in all aspects of running the ball well and throwing it well and managing the team."

As Romine's quarterback coach, offensive coordinator and owner of two CIC trophies, Thiessen doesn't see a player consumed by the need to prove himself with a standout moment or game.

"I don't think he cares about that," Thiessen said. "We'll talk about signature seasons when it's all over, but I'm not sure about signature wins."

"He's been in these situations, maybe not many service academy games, but he's beaten good opponents."

The stakes will obviously be high Saturday. Air Force (3-0) and Navy (3-0) are meeting for the first time with undefeated records, and both are enjoying extended runs of excellence. The Falcons won 10 games two years ago and captured the Mountain West's Mountain Division title last season. The Midshipmen closed the 2014 campaign with six wins in seven games after falling at Air Force, then won a program-record 11 games last year behind record-setting quarterback Keenan Reynolds.

The spotlight will shine on someone under these conditions. Perhaps it will be on Romine.

"I know there's hype going into it, but it's just another game where you've got to be locked in," said Romine, who must juggle preparation this week while completing two key papers for classes and three midterms. "You've got to treat it that way. I know the emotions will be high going in, but come Saturday you've got to be calm, cool, collected."

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