Navy out to avenge heartbreaker against Air Force


Navy out to avenge heartbreaker against Air Force

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) If there are two teams that shouldn't mind a 9:30 a.m. kickoff, it's Navy and Air Force. The Midshipmen and Falcons are used to getting up at the crack of dawn.

``I really don't think it's a factor, at least for the players. During basic training you are up at 4:15,'' Falcons coach Troy Calhoun said.

Accommodating CBS television, the rooster-rising kickoff time is the earliest in the history of Falcon Stadium, which should be selling coffee and hot chocolate by the gallons for what's expected to be a bitterly cold and snowy morning in the mountains.

With these two option offenses, though, the game could be over by lunchtime.

While the timing won't mean anything to these two teams, the trophy means everything.

The Falcons (2-2) have won the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy the last two years after Navy (1-3) held the prize from 2003-09. Last year's game ended in controversy and a 35-34 Air Force overtime win in Annapolis, Md.

The trophy goes to the military academy with the best record in round-robin competition between Air Force, Navy and Army.

``It's in a glass case in the Clune Arena,'' Falcons running back Cody Goetz said. ``We want to keep it here.''

``You have to understand that there's a trophy case in our locker room that's been empty the past couple years,'' Navy running back Bo Snelson said. ``The only ones who have ever seen that trophy are the (Class of) 2013 guys. It hurts that we haven't been able to bring it back.''

Either Air Force or Navy has taken the trophy in the last 15 years, shutting out Army since 1996. The only time Calhoun has lost a home nonconference game was in 2008, when Navy won 33-27 at Falcon Stadium.

``There is a little hatred between the two teams,'' said Goetz, whose Falcons lead the nation with a nearly 400-yard rushing average. ``We know in time we will be serving together, but at the same time, we really don't like each other.

``You want to make sure everyone knows you are the best service academy. We could be playing poker and still want to beat them just as bad.''

In a game that featured nine touchdowns, a stunning comeback and a much-debated penalty, the duel between Air Force and Navy last year was decided by one of football's most mundane plays: the extra point attempt.

Tim Jefferson ran for a 1-yard touchdown in overtime and Parker Herrington added the conversion to give Air Force a wild 35-34 victory. After the Falcons blew an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter, Navy's Kriss Proctor ran for a 1-yard touchdown to begin the overtime. But he was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct for getting up in a defender's face, and Jon Teague's long conversion attempt from 35 yards out was blocked by Alex Means.

That heartbreaker took its toll as the Midshipmen never really righted their ship.

``I think it was a turning point in our season,'' Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. ``That was a devastating game for us. We had a hard time bouncing back from that one. To lose the way we did made it even harder. It's hard enough to lose to our rival, much less the way we did.''

It wasn't just the ending that bothered Niumatalolo.

``Last year, I thought we were a little too amped up, too emotional,'' Niumatalolo said. ``I take blame for that. I think our whole offseason stuff was about getting the trophy back. Our guys were probably too tight at the beginning. We just have to relax and play. Football is an emotional game, but you still have to be able to control yourself.''

Navy senior linebacker Brye French said the Midshipmen were so determined to get the Commander-in-Chief's trophy back that they didn't keep an even keel last year.

``I think maybe we built the game up too big. There might have been too much pressure,'' French said. ``Of course it's a big game, everybody knows that, but last year we worried more about the outside factors instead of just worrying about the team. That's something we've been working on this week.''

Last year's loss still drives him.

``Seeing guys crying and upset in the locker room was rough,'' French said. ``Something clicked in my mind. I want to be part of getting this thing back. I want to provide some leadership for the guys so we can get the trophy back. Our freshman year, we had that ring. It's been sitting in a drawer ever since.

``You look at the older guys before us, they have four (rings). 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.''


AP Sports Writer Dave Ginsburg contributed from Annapolis, Md.


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Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018 projection: Still too close to call in the Metropolitan Division


Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018 projection: Still too close to call in the Metropolitan Division

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are right around the corner and there is still a lot to be decided.

The Metropolitan Division is going to come right down to the wire as each team seemingly continues to win and put the pressure on the first place Capitals.

With just over two weeks remaining in the regular season, the playoff matchups for the first round of the NHL playoffs are still up in the air with only five points separating the top four teams in the Metro. Washington is in good position with a four-point cushion between themselves and the second place Pittsburgh Penguins. With both teams meeting on April 1, however, the Caps are still a long way off from clinching the division and earning home ice in the first round.


Metropolitan Division
1. Washington (93 points, 74 GP, 40 ROW)
W1. Philadelphia (88 points, 75 GP, 36 ROW)

2. Pittsburgh (89 points, 74 GP, 40 ROW)
3. Columbus (89 points, 75 GP, 36 ROW)

Atlantic Division
1. Tampa Bay (106 points, 74 GP, 45 ROW)
W2. New Jersey (82 points, 73 GP, 32 ROW)

2. Boston (100 points, 72 GP, 42 ROW)
3. Toronto (95 points, 74 GP, 37 ROW)

Still in the hunt:
Florida (81points, 72 GP, 34 ROW)


Washington has won only one out of four games against the Philadelphia Flyers this season. That's not an ideal first-round matchup for Washington, but there is still time for the Flyers to climb and overtake Columbus or Pittsburgh in the standings..

What seems unlikely to happen is for New Jersey or Florida to pass Philadelphia. While things remain close near the top of the standings, there seems to be a growing divide between the top-four teams in the Metropolitan Division and the two teams battling for the final remaining spot in the playoffs.

The Flyers may be in fourth place in the division, but they still boast a healthy six-point lead over the Devils who sit in the second wild card.

If we assume New Jersey and Florida will not be able to climb to any postseason position, but the second wild card, that makes the three most likely candidates to face Washington in the first round Pittsburgh, Columbus and Philadelphia.

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Need to Know: Redskins likely to return at least 16 of their 22 starters from last year

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Need to Know: Redskins likely to return at least 16 of their 22 starters from last year

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, March 23, 34 days before the NFL draft.  

Stability at the top of the depth chart

A Redskins defense that ranked 27th in total defense and was dead last against the run is likely to return nine or 10 of the players who were the primary starters in 2017. The Washington defense, which was 16th overall and 27th running the ball, will certainly return seven starters and could have eight the same as last year.

I’m sure that this will alarm many Redskins fans, but it shouldn’t. Before getting into that, let’s look at the changes.

On defense, the nine starters who are assured of returning are DE Stacy McGee, DL Jonathan Allen, OLB Preston Smith, OLB Ryan Kerrigan, ILB Zach Brown, ILB Mason Foster, CB Josh Norman, S Montae Nicholson, and S D.J. Swearinger.

As of right now, a tenth returning starter has to be penciled in at nose tackle. Yes, if the season started today it would be Ziggy Hood at nose tackle again. More on that in a minute.

The only starting spot that is certain to turn over is the cornerback opposite Norman. Even though Bashaud Breeland’s contract agreement with the Panthers fell through due to a failed physical, he is much more likely to land on another NFL team than he is to return to the Redskins.

It is impossible to think that the Redskins will not do something to address the nose tackle position, whether it’s in the draft or in free agency. Then again, it’s impossible to believe they have run the 3-4 defense since 2010 without coming up with a long-term solution at the nose.

On offense, the seven starters certain to return are WR Josh Doctson, WR Jamison Crowder, OT Trent Williams, C Chase Roullier, RG Brandon Scherff, RT Morgan Moses, and TE Jordan Reed. RB Samaje Perine could be an eighth returning starter depending on if the Redskins take a running back early in the draft.

The new starters will be QB Alex Smith, WR Paul Richardson, and someone at left guard.

Having between 16 and 18 returning starters from a team that went 7-9 in 2017 may not be enough turnover for some fans. That’s not a completely unreasonable point of view. However, there is such thing as having too much churn in your starting lineup and some stability for the Redskins may be a good thing this year.

They had five new starters on defense last year and a new defensive coordinator. They also had a new coordinator on offense along with two new wide receivers and, by midseason, changes in the starters at running back and center. This is not counting all of the on-the-fly changes that had to be made due to injuries.

Continuing to make changes in the starting lineup is not always a recipe for success. Sometimes you just need to pick a group of players and, to the extent that you can in the free agency-salary cap world of the NFL, stick with them. Sure, you have to address weakness like nose tackle and possibly running back and fill holes created by free agency departures. However, it is often better to give a player time to acclimate to a system and, especially with a rookie, time to learn the fine points of the game.

Tearing things down and starting over again after a mediocre season is a recipe for, well, more mediocre seasons.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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In response to a tweet about this article that said that the Redskins led the league in losing important players in injuries:


Days until:

—Offseason workouts begin (4/16) 25
—Training camp starts (approx. 7/26) 127
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 171

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