Trophy hunt on agenda for Mids Navy, Air Force set to step up attack on a significant goal

October 11, 1997|By Steven Kivinski | Steven Kivinski,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Navy hasn't won the Commander in Chief's Trophy outright since 1981.

Air Force has laid claim to the award, emblematic of service academy football supremacy, six of the past eight years.

Who wants it more?

That question and some others will be answered today when Navy (2-2) plays host to No. 19 Air Force (6-0) at sold-out Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

"Winning the Commander in Chief's Trophy has always been the No. 1 goal in our football program and is something we take enormous pride in trying to achieve," said Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry, who enters today's noon kickoff with a 20-6 interservice academy record. "When you have something for as long as we had it, and then all of a sudden you don't have it, that makes it even that much more special."

Navy senior defensive back Kevin Lewis disagreed.

"We, especially the seniors, have never won the trophy out right, so we really want it," said Lewis. All three service academies shared the award in 1993. "We realize that this game is big for the goals we want to accomplish. This is the first step."

Navy completed the first step last season, staging a 20-17

come-from-behind victory over Air Force in Colorado Springs, but a fifth straight loss to rival Army, coupled with Army's earlier win over Air Force, earned the Black Knights an invitation to the White House to meet the President of the United States, in whose honor the award is named.

One of the most piercing questions facing Navy is whether its offense, which sputtered in its recent loss to Duke, can have the same success running the ball as The Citadel did last weekend against Air Force.

Air Force linebacker Steve Fernandez has no doubt the Mids will try.

"I'm sure Navy will run right at us. I hope they do," Fernandez said after The Citadel gained 270 yards rushing in a 17-3 defeat. "I love the challenge of somebody who wants to try and run over my body."

Navy center Brian Drechsler believes Fernandez's request will be fulfilled. He hopes to prove to him, the rest of the Falcons and any other Navy doubters that the Mids' 26-17 loss to Duke was an aberration.

"After the Duke game, the public had a lot of questions about our ability and exactly how good of a team we are," said Drechsler, a 5-foot-11, 260-pound senior from Pittsburgh. "I think this is a game where we can finally answer those questions and shut up the people who don't believe in us."

Navy could start silencing its critics by picking up the necessary yardage on third down. In their first four games, the Mids have converted just 14 of 53 third-down opportunities, 26.4 percent.

The Mids will also have to contain Air Force quarterback Blane Morgan.

Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie says: "Blane is every bit as good as his brother Beau," who directed the Falcons' triple-option offense the last two-plus seasons and racked up a school record 6,627 career yards.

"Blane is a tough runner. He claws, pinches and bites for every yard he can get," Weatherbie said. He served as an assistant to DeBerry at the Air Force Academy from 1984 through 1989. "We're going to have to wrap up and grab some cloth to be successful."

On offense, the Mids will go up against a unit that ranks first in the Western Athletic Conference and eighth in the nation in scoring defense. Air Force's defense, anchored by All-America candidate Chris Gizzi, has yielded just 11.2 points per game and posted the school's first WAC shutout in last month's 24-0 win over Colorado State.

Gizzi, the WAC's preseason Defensive Player of the Year, has reached double figures in tackles every game this season, including a season-high 18 against Colorado State. The 5-foot-11, 230-pound inside linebacker leads the Falcons with 85 tackles, 40 of them unassisted.

"Gizzi is a great player and he deserves the recognition he's getting, but looking at films, we're not seeing one guy making the play on defense for them," said Drechsler. "You're seeing five or six guys there and they're giving second efforts, which means they're playing very hard. It's going to be a dogfight."

Pub Date: 10/11/97

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