Navy's annual game against Air Force, part of the yearly battle for the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy between Air Force, Army, and Navy, took on a little more special than normal performance for Navy. Special teams that is.
Navy, whose special teams had failed to block a punt for a touchdown in nearly nine years, accomplished that feat twice on Saturday as the Midshipmen defeated Air Force for the sixth straight time, 33-27, improving to 4-2 on the season.
The Midshipmen found a crack in Air Force's punt team and twice exploited it, once on a 25 yard touchdown early in the game and then again the fourth quarter when Navy recovered the football after the punt was blocked and deflected into the end zone.
That flaw that Navy found in Air Force's punt team? It was the Falcon's back wall shifting out of sync as the ball was snapping, leaving the Midshipmen a small gap to break through and block the punt.
Even senior kicker Matt Harmon got in on the special teams action, connecting on a school record four field goals for Navy, from 35, 48, 44, and 32 yards. In a season where the offense has been Navy's source of points, it was the special teams that finally took over the spotlight and won the game for the Midshipmen.
In a game where Navy's offense was out-gained in total offense, 411-244, Air Force needed not look much further than the special teams and turnover categories. Of Navy's 33 points, 14 came off of the two blocked punts and another 10 on two turnovers. In all, the Midshipmen's vaunted triple-option offense only produced a single score for the game on a three yard run by quarterback Jarod Bryant, only 1:23 into the third quarter.
The victory over Air Force helps Navy continue to silence rumors that the Midshipmen were having a down year after starting the season 1-2 with losses to Ball State and Duke. However, since that 1-2 start, Navy has come storming back with three straight victories, including a 23-21 edging of Rutgers, and an stunning 24-17 victory last week over No. 16 Wake Forest, Navy's first win over a ranked team since 1985, when the Midshipmen knocked off No. 20 Virginia, 17-13.
Navy also gains a huge boost in their defense of the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy, as the Midshipmen look to retain the trophy for a sixth straight year. Navy also extends its winning streak against service academy teams to 12, which ties the record that was set by Air Force from 1997 to 2002.
Navy has a chance to win the trophy outright on Dec. 6 when Army and Navy face off at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA in the last game of the season for both teams. Barring a sudden Army revival, the trophy looks to remain in the possession of the Midshipmen.
At the very least, the victory ensures that the Falcons (3-2) will not get the trophy this year. An Air Force victory over Army and an Army victory over Navy would result in a tie between the three, with Navy retaining the title for a sixth straight year by default.
An Army win over Air Force, however, would set up a showdown on Dec. 6th for the battle of the trophy. Army could claim the trophy that day for the first time since 1996 with a win. A loss by the Black Knights would give Navy the trophy outright.
The victory also inches Navy closer to evening up the series history with Air Force, a 25-16 advantage in favor of the Falcons.
Air Force will look to recover from the loss next week as they go on the road to take on San Diego State in Mountain West Conference action while Navy will look to increase their three game winning streak as the Midshipmen welcome Pittsburgh to Annapolis on October 18th.