Winning 15 straight games against its service academy rivals and seven consecutive Commander-in-Chief's Trophies was a source of enormous pride for the Navy football team. When the streaks were broken by Air Force in 2010, the Midshipmen set out to right the wrong.
From the start of spring camp in 2011, Navy's mantra was "Get it back," referring to the trophy. As the game approached, one player labeled Navy's mindset as "365 days of disgust." But in a 35-34 overtime loss in Annapolis, there was no relief. Even harder to take was the game's defining moment, a taunting penalty on Mids quarterback Kriss Proctor.
A year later, Navy is still trying to recover from the loss and penalty that altered the course of the program. After going 72-34 since 2003, the Mids have won only four of their last 13 games.
|Navy at Air Force|
|When » Saturday, 11:30 a.m.|
|Where » Falcon Stadium,|
|TV » CBS|
"I think it was the turning point in our season. That was a devastating game for us. We had a hard time bouncing back," coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "To lose the way we did made it even harder."
After gathering a year's worth of hard lessons learned, Navy (1-3) heads to Air Force (2-2) on Saturday searching for what it lost.
"Last year I thought we were a little too amped up, too emotional," Niumatalolo said. "I take blame for that. Our whole offseason was about getting the trophy back. Our guys were probably too tight at the beginning. We just have to relax and play."
Navy will have to correct some fundamental and uncharacteristic problems. The Mids have committed 12 turnovers, three fewer than all last season. Their triple-option attack has produced 219 yards a game, short of last year's 312. Junior quarterback Trey Miller (69 carries, 181 yards) has been swarmed, committing 10 of the turnovers. Freshman Keenan Reynolds has had his moments in relief, but Niumatalolo will stick with Miller, who has quickness and a strong arm.
Asked about the Navy quarterbacks Monday, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun sounded like former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, famous for flowery assessments of the Mids.
"I think they have two quarterbacks that probably run and throw -- have that kind of combination ability-wise -- probably good as they've had since [Roger] Staubach 50 years ago," Calhoun said.
While the inexperienced offensive line will try to give Miller a chance to demonstrate his ability, the Mids also will be mindful to remain composed. After the disappointment of last year's game, co-captain Alex Teich walked off the field and to the locker room, skipping the teams' traditional observance of the alma maters, earning a one-game suspension.
For linebacker Brye French, seeing teammates crying in the locker room led him to quit the lacrosse team, opting for football practice in the spring.
"Our freshman year, we had that ring. It's been sitting in a drawer ever since," French said. "You look at the older guys before us. They have four. It's tough only having one. It's even harder that some of the younger guys don't know what that's like, the success of Navy football in the past."