AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) – Weston Steelhammer watched the first half from the locker room. No doubt, Navy wishes he would’ve stayed put.
Suspended for a half because of a targeting penalty the week before, the Air Force senior safety provided a second-half spark for a defense that was already playing lights out.
Steelhammer led a dominating defensive effort , tailback Tim McVey scored twice, including a 62-yard TD catch, and Air Force beat Navy 28-14 on Saturday to take a big step toward claiming the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.
Jalen Robinette had five catches for 163 yards for Air Force (4-0), which extended its home winning streak to 15 straight. His 75-yard TD catch late in the third quarter broke open the game.
The Midshipmen (3-1) averted a shutout on a 6-yard TD run by Shawn White with 8:33 remaining. The option-oriented team finished with more yards passing (260) than rushing (57). For that matter, so did Air Force (257 yards passing, 173 on the ground).
“We’ve got plenty of growing to do,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “Not that this wasn’t a good step, because it certainly was.”
Steelhammer sat out the first half after being disqualified for a targeting call in the third quarter last weekend at Utah State. All dressed up and nowhere to go, he watched the opening half from the locker room, but soon made his presence felt by picking off a Will Worth pass with Navy driving in the third quarter. He had another late in the game.
“The guys out there did a great job in the first half of keeping us in it,” Steelhammer said. “I didn’t want to be too much of a distraction coming back.”
No worry about that. He’s the leader of a unit that had six sacks, eight tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and held a Navy team averaging 316.3 yards rushing to just 57.
“There are still a lot of things we kind of goofed up,” said Brodie Hicks, who had a blocked punt in the second quarter. “But we definitely had a really good game.”
Here’s a stat that bodes well for Air Force: The previous 19 winners of this game have gone on to win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, which represents superiority among the three service academies. The Falcons need only to beat Army on Nov. 5 to earn the trophy. If the teams all finish 1-1 in the round-robin competition, the previous winner – Navy – retains the prize.
“They got after us,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “I was really impressed with Air Force. I thought they played a really good game.”
The first half was ruled by defense with the only score a field goal. A surprise, too, given that Air Force and Navy came in averaging a combined 906 yards per game.
Air Force began to pull away in the third quarter when McVey scored on a 1-yard plunge. Robinette soon followed with his TD catch from Nate Romine, who finished 8 of 14 for a career-high 257 yards and two scores.
Air Force will definitely receive some votes this week. The Falcons haven’t appeared in the AP poll since 2010.
However, it’s hardly on their mind.
“It’s great to talk about all those rankings and numbers,” Romine said. “But all that matters is who you have next week and how you prepare for them.”
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Robinette was impressed by McVey’s one-handed, spinning catch . So much so that he’s going to add it to his list of plays.
“I’m still in shock about it,” Robinette said.
NAVY: The Midshipmen had a 19-game win streak against unranked opponents snapped. Just couldn’t get their vaunted rushing attack on track.
AIR FORCE: Off to a 4-0 start for the first time since 2003. The Falcons relied on a defense that recorded six sacks, eight tackles for loss and forced a fumble.
NAVY: Host a Houston squad led by Heisman Trophy hopeful Greg Ward Jr., who accounted for five touchdowns in a 42-14 win over Connecticut on Thursday.
“We have a top-5 team coming into our stadium next week so lick our wounds and move on,” Niumatalolo said.
AIR FORCE: Travel to Wyoming next Saturday. Two years ago, the Falcons lost 17-13 to the Cowboys in Laramie.
– By PAT GRAHAM, AP Sports Writer
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