- Associated Press - Friday, October 6, 2017

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo didn’t need to assemble the team together to inform them the importance of Saturday’s game against Air Force.

“The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy and winning the conference are our two biggest goals,” Niumatalolo said. “This is the first leg and it’s going to be a battle, a real tough game.”

Air Force holds the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy after sweeping Army and Navy last season. The Falcons pretty much dominated the Midshipmen in a 28-14 victory in Colorado Springs.

“These kids are a lot smarter than me,” Niumatalolo said. “If I have to remind them of that, they probably couldn’t have gotten into the Naval Academy.”

This marks the 50th meeting between Navy (4-0) and Air Force (1-3). The winner has gone on to capture the coveted Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy every year since 1997.

Navy won seven straight in the series from 2003 through 2009. However, Air Force holds a 4-3 advantage since 2010. The Falcons and Midshipmen have traded the trophy back and forth the past four seasons, a trend the Annapolis contingent would like to continue.


Some other things to know about Saturday’s game:

BAD TASTE: Fourteen years. That’s how long Navy went without losing to Air Force and Army in the same season. Getting swept by their service academy rivals was the low point of an otherwise successful 2016 season for the Midshipmen. “This is a new year. We’re not even thinking about last year. We’re just trying to get this one,” Niumatalolo said.

HARD TO RUN: Air Force and Navy both employ option offenses so it was the rare meeting between the rivals last year in which much of the damage was done through the air. The Midshipmen were forced to throw the ball after having no success on the ground. Will Worth completed 17 of 30 passes for 260 yards, but also tossed two interceptions. The Falcons finished with 257 yards passing, although that production was bolstered by 173 yards rushing. “I think a lot of it is that we’re both so aggressive. Air Force puts a lot of defenders on the line of scrimmage. We threw a lot to try to back them up,” Niumatalolo said.

Junior Arion Worthman starts at quarterback for Air Force and Tim McVey leads the Falcons in rushing with 278 yards and three touchdowns. Worthman has run for 250 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 396 yards and six scores.

IN NEED OF A WIN: Air Force is on a three-game losing streak after getting blown out by New Mexico 56-38 on Saturday night. It was a surprising result considering Air Force had played fairly well in consecutive losses to a pair of ranked opponents in No. 7 Michigan (29-13) and No. 22 San Diego State (28-24 ). “We’ve got to beat Navy. There’s no question,” Worthman said. “This game is our season. It’s our Super Bowl. It’s a must-win.”

SERIES NEWCOMER: Navy quarterback Zach Abey will be facing Air Force for the first time. The 6-foot-2, 212-pound junior leads the Midshipmen in rushing with 656 yards and seven touchdowns on 117 carries. Abey was named American Athletic Conference Co-Offensive Player of the Week after leading Navy to a 31-21 victory over Tulsa last Saturday. He ran for 185 yards and three touchdowns and was not stopped for a loss on 36 rushing attempts.

CAN’T WAIT: Navy hadn’t even shed its dirty uniforms last week before turning its attention to Air Force. “It’s great to get off to a strong start, but right now we have to focus on Air Force,” Abey said after the Tulsa game. “That’s going to be a huge game, it’s at home and we lost to them last year. So we’re going to try to get to 5-0.”


More AP college football: https://collegefootball.ap.org and https://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25

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