Navy looking to take command

Quest for third straight Commander in Chief's Trophy begins Saturday vs. Air Force


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Now, Navy's football season turns very serious.

With a first victory finally secured - albeit not easily because of miscues and penalties - the Midshipmen will be stalking big game this weekend when they host an Air Force team from which they have wrested the Commander in Chief's Trophy for two years running.

Named in honor of the nation's president, the trophy is presented to the winner of competition among the three major service academies.

"This is a big game coming up, and it's always going to be a big game," Navy coach Paul Johnson said. "With the trophy at stake, it's pivotal."

Quarterback Lamar Owens, who was not hampered by cramping Saturday and for the first time this season didn't miss any snaps because of injury, noted that it is time to get ready for the "Zoomers," referring to the Falcons, who dominated the service competition for two decades before Johnson resurrected the Navy program.

Air Force comes to Annapolis with the still-bitter aftertaste of last season's 24-21 defeat to the Midshipmen in Colorado Springs, a contest won by Geoff Blumenfeld's 30-yard field goal with four seconds left.

To prevail, Navy will need to upgrade its efficiency after five offensive plays of 33 yards or longer either accounted for or set up all its scoring in a 28-21 struggle against Duke. Owens completed the outbreak with a 52-yard scamper that set up his 2-yard run for the clinching touchdown.

Otherwise, penalty flags (some of them questionable), missed assignments and Duke's hoggish ball possession (it was on offense approximately two-thirds of the game) stymied the Midshipmen, who basically did enough to win.

"This game was eerie," Johnson said, "But we fought and won. It was hard to tell if we were rusty or not after three weeks off because we always seemed to be getting stopped by a penalty. Still, it's over, and it's time to move on. But we've got to play better."

"We definitely weren't at our best in the beginning, and it showed. I don't think you can blame the officials; it was us. We lacked discipline."

"We came out the second half with more enthusiasm," added linebacker David Mahoney. "We were on the sideline getting pumped up. The defense stayed on the field way too long in the first half. We've got to do a better job of not letting our offense down."

"We were challenged [by the coaches] at halftime," said Owens, who got a little too enthusiastic and high-stepped in the end zone after his touchdown, drawing an excessive celebration infraction. "We executed a little better but only in spurts. At the end, I just took it on my shoulders."

Navy emerged without any major injuries and with a new dose of self-belief after tough three-point defeats to Maryland and Stanford.

"This proved to our team that we can win. We finally pulled one out," linebacker Rob Caldwell said. "This will give us a little more confidence in ourselves."

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