Navy seeks reversal vs. Air Force

After worst game, Mids need best vs. unbeaten foe

College Football

October 04, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

The best way for Navy to erase its worst performance of the season is to produce its most inspired effort of the year.

That's what it likely will take for the Midshipmen to take down unbeaten Air Force in this season's first confrontation among service academies. All Navy must do is slow down a prolific, triple-option offense led by quarterback Chance Harridge, punch some holes in a Falcons defense that gets overlooked at times, and overcome injuries on both sides of the ball.

Playing with more discipline and fire than it showed in last week's 48-27 loss at Rutgers a week ago is paramount to Navy's chances, in the eyes of senior safety Eli Sanders. The Midshipmen (2-2) committed a season-high three turnovers, had two blocked field goal attempts, ruined drives with ill-timed penalties and got trampled on defense.

"The emotional level and intensity level were not there [at Rutgers]," Sanders said. "We definitely have to play at the highest emotional level and highest intensity level [today] to give ourselves a chance to win. If not, we're cheating ourselves."

This figures to be a heated, trash-talking affair at FedEx Field in Landover, where the race for the annual Commander in Chief's Trophy commences. Air Force (5-0) has won the trophy six straight times by beating Army and Navy.

Navy has plenty of problems to overcome on its own sideline. On defense, senior inside linebacker Ben Mathews is not expected to play after spraining his right knee in pre-game warm-ups last week.

The offensive line must adjust to the loss of junior center August Roitsch, who injured his foot at Rutgers. Backup center Marshall Green or right guard Shane Todd will start. And junior kicker Geoff Blumenfeld (hip) probably will yield to senior Eric Rolfs.

"It's not what you would like it to be, but you've got what you've got, so you just play and move on," Navy coach Paul Johnson said.

With the two top rushing attacks in the nation squaring off, don't expect the ball to be in the air much, unless the game turns into a rout early. And don't assume that last year's 48-7 loss in Colorado Springs means the Midshipmen have no shot to beat the Falcons for the first time since 1996. In the previous three meetings between these two schools on the East Coast, Navy has lost by a combined 14 points.

"In the back of our minds, we know everybody is saying we're inferior to them, and Air Force has been the dominant team among the service academies," Navy quarterback Craig Candeto said. "I would imagine we will play better than we did at Rutgers."

Last week, the Falcons won for the first time at BYU in 21 years by a 24-10 count. Linebacker Marchello Graddy (45 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and left end Monty Coleman (5.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks) lead the way.

And with Harridge setting the tone, the Falcons present a host of problems on offense.

Harridge, one of five Air Force quarterbacks to record 1,000 yards rushing and passing in one season, is distributing the ball smoothly in the option and has completed 56.2 percent of his passes. He also leads the team with 292 yards rushing. But seven players have produced at least 100 rushing yards.

"[Harridge] is the straw that stirs the drink. We have to approach it as trying to stop their team, not one guy. If you try to stop one guy, you get killed," Johnson said.

Harridge told the Denver Post earlier that he "could not imagine" suffering a loss to Navy, which would achieve its highest victory total since 1999 with an upset. Harridge later said he refuses to look past any service academy.

"The minute you take a team like Army or Navy lightly," he said, "is the minute they sneak up on you and beat you."

Today's game

Navy (2-2) vs. Air Force (5-0)

Site: FedEx Field, Landover

Time: 1:30 p.m.


Radio: WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)

Line: Air Force by 14 1/2

Series: Air Force leads 25-10

Last meeting: Navy lost at Air Force, 48-7, last year.

Last week: Navy lost at Rutgers, 48-27. Air Force won at Brigham Young, 24-10.

Navy offense vs. Air Force defense: The Midshipmen, led by slotbacks Eric Roberts and Tony Lane, quarterback Craig Candeto and fullback Kyle Eckel, probably need to approach their average of 311.8 rushing yards to have a chance, although their offensive line is banged up. The Falcons have held their opponents to an average of 16.2 points. Candeto needs to stretch the defense by exploiting the outside and proving he can throw downfield.

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