Air Force, Navy eyeing the prize

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ANNAPOLIS | In years past, the days leading up to Navy-Air Force game were marked by some chatter between the two rivals. Former Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry reveled in the Falcons‘ victories, and that attitude often permeated his team.

But this week, the bulletin-board material has been kept to a minimum. Second-year Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, who quarterbacked the Falcons under DeBerry in the late 1980s, has nothing but praise to shower upon the service academies.

“These are always very intense games, tremendously spirited,” he said. “You’re going to have two remarkable institutions involved and a bunch of young men that, following graduation, are going to be wonderful officers for our country.”

The two schools have kept their focus on winning the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.

Navy (3-2) has dominated trophy play of late. It has won 11 straight service-academy games, including five in a row over Air Force (3-1). The result has been a school-record five straight Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy titles.

However, the Midshipmen’s success has not squelched their thirst to win the trophy. The pressure extends to the coaching staff as well. First-year coach Ken Niumatalolo said beating Air Force and Army is high atop his job description.

“I think any coach is judged on how he does against his rivals,” Niumatalolo said. “I don’t have a problem with that. This is a big game for us, so this is part of the deal. I knew that when I signed up for this job.”

The Mids tried to ignore the talk surrounding the game and keep this week’s preparation as routine as possible. They received constant encouragement from the Brigade but remained focused on continuing the momentum of their two-game winning streak.

“I think the key is staying focused like it’s a regular game,” linebacker Ross Pospisil said. “It’s a big game, no doubt about it, but at the same time, once you get to the first play, all the hype is gone and it’s another game.”

Added fullback Eric Kettani: “We don’t really talk about it that much. Every week when we walk into our locker room, it says ‘Beat [the next game’s opponent].’ This week it says ‘Air Force,’ last week it said ‘Wake.’ It’s one goal at one time.”

Most of the players on the Air Force roster have never even seen the trophy. The winning school gets to keep it on campus, and the trophy has stayed at Navy’s Bancroft Hall since 2003. The Falcons are tasked with restoring the winning tradition to Air Force, which won 13 out of 14 trophies from 1982-2002, and the Mids expect a challenge Saturday.

“I think it’s equally important to all service academies to win it,” linebacker Clint Sovie said. “Going to the White House [for the trophy presentation ceremony] is a big deal.”

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