We all know the story: on his official recruiting trip to the Naval Academy, Air Force quarterback Shaun Carney announced to Navy players and coaches that he would not be attending USNA. The reason? Because he didn’t think that Navy would ever beat Air Force, and he apparently wanted everyone to know it. That was back in 2002. After having just watched Air Force beat Navy 48-7 for their eighth win in nine tries against the Mids, he probably thought that backing up that talk would be no problem. He was wrong. Navy defeated Air Force 31-20 on Saturday afternoon for their fifth straight win in the series, and fourth with Carney at the helm of the Falcons’ offense.
It’s hard to blame a kid for wanting to go to a winning program. But if he had kept his motives to himself instead of insulting his hosts, perhaps he wouldn’t have become karma’s diaper. Of course, karma had a little help. Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, Reggie Campbell, and Zerbin Singleton each had huge runs, and the Navy defense stiffened when it had to.
The game was a back-and forth affair for the first three quarters. Air Force had a pretty good game plan. When a defense is having trouble playing with discipline, the option is a good way to attack it. Air Force was able to get big gains running the option, particularly on the pitch. As expected, Air Force also incorporated a lot of misdirection into their offense, with WR Chad Hall scoring twice on end-arounds. Hall had 108 receiving yards to go along with those two rushing touchdowns. Air Force didn’t have much trouble moving the ball, rolling up 474 yards of total offense.
But as was also expected, the Falcons had trouble executing when it counted. In the first quarter, Air Force had second and goal from the Navy 10 yard line. An errant pitch from Carney to Hall led to an 11-yard loss, leading to 3rd and goal from the 21. Air Force would have to kick a field goal. In the second quarter, Air Force was stopped on 4th down at the Navy 5 yard line thanks to an excellent play from Navy LB Tony Haberer. Navy couldn’t move the ball on the ensuing drive and went 3 and out. Air Force got the ball at midfield following Greg Veteto’s punt. They were able to drive to the Navy 23, but missed a 41-yard field goal attempt. Air Force’s defense forced another 3 and out on Navy’s opening drive of the third quarter. After the punt, the Falcons were able to drive to the Navy 3. On 3rd and goal, fullback Ryan Williams was open for a sure touchdown but bobbled Carney’s pass. Air Force had to kick another field goal.
Despite these miscues, Air Force had a 20-17 lead in the 3rd quarter after Chad Hall’s second touchdown. That is where Navy took over.
After Air Force took the lead, Kaipo opened the next drive with a 53-yard pass to a streaking OJ Washington. The play put Navy at the Air Force 20, and the Mids chipped away from there, converting on two 4th downs and scoring the go-ahead touchdown. Air Force was able to take their next drive all the way to the Navy 9 yard line, but then the meltdown began. Mistake #1 was a personal foul call against the Zoomies on a ridiculously late hit after a pass to Chad Hall. Mistake #2 was a false start. Mistake #3 was a holding penalty on the next play, which gave Air Force 3rd and a nautical mile from all the way back at the Navy 39.
It’s here that Air Force coach Troy Calhoun put the frosting on the gaffe cake. Since it would take a pretty desperate heave to try to convert on 3rd down from the 39, the smart play would have been to throw for 10-15 yards and put yourself in position for a field goal. Navy had been allowing completions underneath all afternoon, and Air Force was only down 24-20. A field goal would have meant that even if Navy scored a touchdown on their next drive, it would still have been a one posession game. But Calhoun didn’t play for the field goal. Instead, he had Shaun Carney try to throw to a triple-covered Chad Hall in the end zone. The pass was short, and Air Force was forced to punt. Navy took over on the Air Force 20, and Kaipo made the Falcons pay.
The Hawaiian word for “to run fast” is holo’ino. I went into the Navy media guide to see if that’s one of Kaipo’s middle names, but it isn’t. It might not be his name, but it’s the best way to describe what happened next. One play after Eric Kettani ran up the middle for two yards, Kaipo ran the triple option to the left. The Air Force linebacker that was responsible for covering him bit the cheese, and Kaipo ran for the fastest 78 yards ever run on fieldturf. Kaipo might not be the shiftiest guy on the field, but once there’s an opening where he can start his long strides, nobody will catch him. It happened against Temple, against Ball State, and again on Saturday versus Air Force.
That TD run put Navy up 11. Air Force got the ball back with 9:18 left to play, but a Jim Ollis fumble was recovered by Blake Carter. Navy was able to run some time off the clock, and by the time Air Force had the ball again there was only 5:31 left for them to get two scores. They were able to move into field goal range to get one of the two scores they needed, but Ryan Harrison couldn’t get the ball above a leaping Jesse Iwuji, putting the finishing touches on a mistake-filled afternoon for the Falcons.
— The win overshadowed the problem, but Navy’s placekicking woes continued. Joey Bullen’s 51-yard attempt might have been a bit of a stretch to begin with, but he had a 42-yard attempt blocked that could have put Navy up by 14. It’s one thing to miss kicks, but it’s another to not even be able to get them past the line of scrimmage. With a stretch of tough games coming up, it’s crucial to be able to take whatever points we can get. This problem has already burned us once this season.
— Navy had a very clear speed advantage against Air Force. Reggie Campbell and Zerbin Singleton were able to make big gains on the outside, and Kaipo would’ve traveled back in time if he had a flux capacitor strapped to him. Defensively, we still made a lot of the same mistakes we’ve been making all year (@#$% missed tackles). However, our speed was so good relative to Air Force that they couldn’t convert our mistakes into the big plays that Duke or Ball State were able to make. Our recruiting has been paying off.
— I wish I could say that I was shocked to see Air Force LB John Rabold take a swing at Zerb, but I wasn’t. At least Calhoun took him out of the game. I’m not so sure that DeBerry would have. It’s hard to believe that he could be so frustrated, since this was “just another game on the schedule.”
— Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh wasted no time in doing what Air Force does best: run his mouth. Regarding Air Force’s 5-game losing streak to Navy, Mueh said, “We’ll end it next year. Guaranteed.” What a dope. I’m sure that Troy Calhoun appreciates being put on the spot like that. After all, it isn’t like Mueh himself has anything to do with whether or not his prediction comes to pass. Anyone who pays attention to Air Force athletics will tell you that this isn’t the first time Mueh has said something stupid.
— Things aren’t going to get any easier for Air Force. 430 of their 474 yards of offense was generated by seniors. In contrast, Navy started only 3 seniors on defense.
— Air Force needs to pick a uniform and stick with it. They get uglier and uglier every time they’re resdesigned.
Birddog Game Balls
— Reggie Campbell and Zerb Singleton: Navy’s leading rusher in each of the previous 4 years against Air Force had been the fullback. Determined not to let that happen again, they frequently brought linebackers to the line of scrimmage to plug holes up the middle. That made it important for the A-backs to produce, and they did. Reggie and Zerb combined for 106 yards and two touchdowns while averaging nearly 9 yards per carry. I’m not sure whose touchdown was cooler: Zerb geting airborne or Reggie’s slalom run through the Air Force defense. A’s make plays.
— Ram Vela: Ram Vela made the unusual move from cornerback to linebacker for this game, and it was a little bit of genius from Buddy Green. Ram had six tackles, including one for a loss. One of the ways that coaches measure a defensive player’s effort is by looking to see how far away they are from the ball at the end of a play. Ram was always around the ball. With his DB speed and experience, Ram also is a bit of a force multiplier, giving Coach Green more options in pass coverage. Vela found himself in one on one coverage with Chad Hall a couple of times. Hall is Air Force’s fastest player. Vela also gave Navy a little bit of speed in rushing the passer.
Actually, I’m a little surprised that Buddy didn’t play more man to man defense in this game. Hall is the only really fast guy that Air Force had, and Carney never had much of a reputation for delivering the long ball. Not that it really mattered in the end.
— Tony Haberer: Tony saved his biggest plays for when they were needed the most: stopping Jim Ollis on 4th down, and sacking Shaun Carney in the 4th quarter to force Air Force into a field goal attempt that was blocked.
— Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada: Have you heard? He’s fast. He should do one of those “Man Vs. Beast” TV shows where he can race a zebra or something.