Air Force is 5-3 and disappointed.
When the Falcons beat Navy a month ago, they were 4-0 and in the driver’s seat for the Commander-In-Chief ’s Trophy. But that was before they lost three straight, a skid they ended with a 31-21 win last week at Fresno State.
Army is 5-3 and excited.
The Black Knights are one win from bowl eligibility for the first time since a 7-6 record and Armed Forces Bowl win in the 2010 season. They were particularly impressive in last week’s 21-13 win at Wake Forest. Army has already topped its wins totals since 2010 that had been limited to 3-9, 2-10, 3-9, 4-8 and 2-10.
But those comparisons of who is up and who is down are strictly for the fans.
They mean nothing to Air Force’s players, even though the Falcons have dominated the series, winning 17 of the last 19 meetings. Army doesn’t have Air Force’s attention this year any more than a year ago when the Black Knights entered the showdown with a 2-6 mark.
“Service academy games are always played extremely tough,” said Air Force senior inside linebacker Patrick Healy. “We definitely have respect for them. You know they’re going to be as tough as you are. Army is always a tough task for us.”
Despite Air Force’s unexpected slump, the Falcons are still in the driver’s seat for the CIC. If the Falcons beat Army, they book a trip to the White House for the seniors. But Air Force hasn’t looked as strong recently as it did in beating Navy, 28-14. The Falcons held Navy to 57 yards rushing.
Air Force seemed on its way to cracking the Top 25 until three straight losses to Wyoming, 35-26; New Mexico, 45-40; and Hawaii, 34-27 in overtime. In fairness to those three schools, they are enjoying resurgent seasons with better Mountain West Conference records than Air Force (5-3, 2-3 MW Mountain).
Wyoming (6-2, 4-0 MW Mountain) leads its division with New Mexico (5-3, 3-1 MW Mountain) is tied for second with Boise State (7-1, 3-1 MW Mountain). Hawaii (4-5, 4-4 MW West) is second to San Diego State in the West.
Air Force also can’t be confident it has solved its problems despite an uneven performance in a win versus struggling Fresno State (1-8, 0-5 MW West). The Falcons fell behind 14-0 in the second quarter and trailed 14-7 at halftime.
Healy turned momentum Air Force’s way when he intercepted a pass and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown and 17-14 lead in the third quarter. But the Falcons didn’t put the victory away until two fourth-quarter touchdowns by backup quarterback Arion Worthman, who replaced injured starter Nate Romine.
Healy finished the game second on the team in tackles with eight, including one for a loss.
“We’ve got to keep focused on playing together playing as a unit,” Healy said.
“We can’t get too up or down depending on what’s happening on the field. We have to lock in our tasks a little bit more. We have to start faster and finish. We have to play complete games instead of quarters at a time.”
Air Force-Army doesn’t capture the nation’s attention as does the Army-Navy Game with its 116-year history, but don’t tell that to players who have been on the field. The only difference to Air Force’s players is they played Navy at home this year and travel to Army. The Black Knights play at Michie Stadium alongside the Hudson River.
“It’s an awesome atmosphere,” Healy said. “We have the (Army) cadets sitting right behind you, but most of my family is from back there, so I’ll have 30 or so people coming to the game. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Follow Tom Shanahan of Today’s U on Twitter @shanny4055