Air Force finds struggling run game late, beats Navy 13-10

Oct 1, 2022, 12:37 AM | Updated: 1:30 pm
Air Force wide receiver Ben Jefferson, left, is stopped by Navy linebacker Eavan Gibbons in the sec...

Air Force wide receiver Ben Jefferson, left, is stopped by Navy linebacker Eavan Gibbons in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, at Air Force Academy, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

              Air Force wide receiver Ben Jefferson, left, is stopped by Navy linebacker Eavan Gibbons in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, at Air Force Academy, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              Navy quarterback Tai Lavatai, right, drives past Air Force defensive end Jayden Thiergood to score a touchdown in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, at Air Force Academy, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              Air Force quarterback Haaziq Daniels, right, evades Navy defensive lineman Donald Berniard Jr., center, and linebacker Colin Ramos for a short gain in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, at Air Force Academy, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              Navy wide receiver Mark Walker, right, pulls in a pass as Air Force cornerback Eian Castonguay covers in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, at Air Force Academy, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              Air Force players sing the school song with cadets after an NCAA college football game against Navy, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, at Air Force Academy, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              Navy defensive end Justin Reed, left, recovers a fumble by Air Force quarterback Haaziq Daniels, right, as guard Luke Hallstrom, top, reaches in during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, at Air Force Academy, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              Navy defensive end Justin Reed celebrates after recovering a fumble by Air Force quarterback Haaziq Daniels in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, at Air Force Academy, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              Navy linebacker Tyler Fletcher, bottom, sacks Air Force quarterback Haaziq Daniels in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, at Air Force Academy, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              Air Force wide receiver David Cormier, left, is tripped up by Navy cornerback Mbiti Williams Jr. after catching a pass in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, at Air Force Academy, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              Air Force quarterback Haaziq Daniels, front, fumbles the ball as he is hit by Navy linebackers John Marshall, center, and Nicholas Straw in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, at Air Force Academy, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              Air Force quarterback Haaziq Daniels runs for a short gain in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Navy, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, at Air Force Academy, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) — Haaziq Daniels and the Air Force ground game finally got on track late to help the Falcons hold off Navy 13-10 on Saturday.

The option quarterback clinched the win for the Falcons (4-1) with an 18-yard scamper on third-and-6 in Navy territory, allowing them to run out the clock. This was soon after Matthew Dapore connected on a 22-yard field goal with 4:14 left to give Air Force the lead.

Daniels had 65 yards rushing to go with 156 through the air, including a 67-yard touchdown pass to David Cormier on the third play of the game. The Falcons gained around 90 of their 200 yards rushing over the final two drives. They entered with the top rushing offense in the nation at 412.2 yards per game.

“It was tense but we wouldn’t want it any other way,” Cormier said. “A service academy game — that’s how they go.”

Tai Lavatai tied the game at 10-apiece with 10:50 remaining with a 5-yard run on third-and-goal. Lavatai drifted back to pass but when the middle opened up, he cruised into the end zone. Navy (1-3) entered as a two-touchdown underdog.

After Dapore’s field goal, Navy went three-and-out. The Midshipmen finished 4-of-13 on third downs for the game.

“They brought a lot of different pressures,” said Lavatai, who finished with 129 yards passing and 34 more rushing. “They were fast, physical. … There’s a lot of personal mistakes on the offensive side of ball. Just something we’ve got to clean up.”

The Falcons raced out to a quick 10-0 lead and rode their defense to a victory in the first leg of the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy. The annual award goes to the round-robin winner between the service academies.

Air Force is now in position to win their first outright CIC Trophy since 2016. The Falcons play Army in Arlington, Texas, on Nov. 5.

“It means a lot for us seniors, to do something that hasn’t been done in a while,” Cormier said.

Navy hasn’t won at Air Force since an overtime victory on Oct. 6, 2012. The Midshipmen missed a 33-yard field goal early in the third quarter.

“They played their hearts out,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “Our guys did, too.”

Brad Roberts finished with 108 yards rushing to move into second place on the program’s all-time rushing list among fullbacks. He now has 2,386 career yards. Leading the fullback list is John Kershner, who had 2,726 yards from 1980-83.

The Falcons got off to a fast start with Daniels completing a long pass to Cormier for a touchdown. It was a pair of first-half fumbles from Daniels that kept Navy within striking distance. The first was with the Falcons deep in Midshipmen territory early in the second quarter.

Then, with 34 seconds left in the half and facing third down, Daniels tried to find a receiver downfield but was stripped from behind by Jacob Busic. Navy turned that into a 37-yard field goal to trim Air Force’s lead to 10-3 at halftime.

The defense held its ground.

“Whenever that kind of stuff happens, we understand that sets the tone of our defense,” safety Trey Taylor said. “Stuff like that gets us going.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Navy: The Midshipmen boast one of the top rushing defenses in the country and demonstrated why. The Falcons couldn’t get on track. “That’s a tough one,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “Proud of the way the kids fought.”

Air Force: The Falcons shook off the news from earlier this week when the program received two years of probation from the NCAA as part of its sanctions for recruiting violations.

US SPACE FORCE

The Falcons honored the U.S. Space Force with their jersey ensemble Saturday. The helmets featured a lightning bolt with a shared image between the Air Force and the U.S. Space Force, whose mission is “organizing, training, and equipping Guardians to conduct global space operations.” The name plate on the back of the uniforms had the U.S. Space Force motto of “Semper Supra,” which means “Always Above.”

THE TROPHY

The three-sided trophy the service academies play for stands 2 1/2-feet tall and is engraved with each school’s seal. The Army Mule, Navy Goat and Air Force Falcon are inserted on their respective sides. The year the trophy is earned gets engraved on a plate on the winning academy’s side of the trophy.

UP NEXT

Navy: Host Tulsa on Saturday.

Air Force: At Utah State on Saturday.

___

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Air Force finds struggling run game late, beats Navy 13-10