ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Air Force and Navy will meet on the football field Saturday after an unusual week of preparation that saw emotions swing from disappointment to elation.
The government shutdown put the game in jeopardy, but a sellout crowd is expected to watch the first leg of the round-robin competition for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, which Navy (2-1) reclaimed from Air Force (1-4) last year. The Midshipmen were outright winners of the trophy for seven straight seasons before losing it to the Falcons in 2010 and 2011.
Earlier in the week it was unclear if the game would be played.
On Tuesday, the Department of Defense suspended all intercollegiate athletic events at Navy, Air Force and Army because of the government shutdown. A few hours later, Air Force officials announced the academy in Colorado Springs would comply with a travel ban put in place by the DOD.
But Late Wednesday night, the DOD approved a proposal allowing service academy football to be played this weekend. Lawyers were involved with crafting the plan, which called for all costs associated with the Air Force-Navy game and the Army at Boston College contest be covered by non-appropriated funds.
“I’m grateful that the leadership in Washington recognized that not playing this game would have been devastating to so many innocent people,” Naval Academy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said. “This weekend’s activities have been a year in the making.”
Gladchuck got the “last-minute reprieve” he was hoping for that allowed the service academies to play.
“The emotional toll it would take would be incalculable,” he said about canceling the Air Force-Navy game. “The financial toll it would take would be incalculable.”
Here are five things to look Saturday when Navy hosts Air Force:
QUICK RECOVERY: In this day and age of increased concern for player safety, it is rare for anyone to take the field one week after suffering a concussion. However, Navy starting quarterback Keenan Reynolds has been cleared to play after suffering a head injury against Western Kentucky. Reynolds, who absorbed a helmet-to-helmet hit from linebacker Andrew Jackson, was diagnosed with a mild concussion and passed the normal battery tests. After being held out of practice on Monday and Tuesday, Reynolds participated fully on Wednesday and Thursday.
ENCORE PERFORMANCE: Air Force is down to its third string quarterback after Kale Pearson suffered a season-ending injury in the opener and backup Jaleel Awini was declared ineligible by the academy. Sophomore Karson Roberts made his first collegiate start against Nevada last week directed an offense that piled up 453 total yards in a 45-42 loss. Roberts led the way with 161 yards rushing, most by an Air Force quarterback since 2001. The Texas native ran for two touchdowns and passed for another while displaying tremendous poise.
BOUNCING BACK: Navy looked like an offensive juggernaut through two games, amassing 92 points and 1,104 total yards in wins over Indiana and Delaware. However, the Midshipmen were held to 183 total yards by Western Kentucky last week in an ugly 19-7 loss. Losing Reynolds late in the second quarter certainly didn’t help Navy, which was limited to 107 rushing yards, almost 300 below its nation-leading average going into the game. The Midshipmen mustered just 65 total yards in the second half with backup quarterback John Hendrick at the helm. “We have to find a way to move on,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “We do not have time, especially this week, to complain, sulk, cry.”
NO DEFENSE: Air Force has struggled mightily on defense this season. The Falcons are allowing an average of 41.6 points and 526.2 total yards, which ranks 119th and 121st out of 123 Football Bowl Subdivision schools. Air Force must find its footing on Saturday if it hopes to snap a four-game losing streak. The Falcons will be helped by their familiarity with the triple-option offense employed by the Mids.
DEPLETED LINE: Navy had two starting offensive linemen suffer severe injuries against Western Kentucky. Left guard Thomas Stone sustained a knee injury on the team’s first possession and right tackle Graham Vickers endured a concussion in the waning seconds. Vickers has called it a career after suffering too many concussions between high school and college. Stone is out indefinitely. Those two seniors will be replaced in the starting lineup by a pair of sophomores – E.K. Binns at left guard and Brandon Greene at right tackle.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)