Three plays and 1:24 into the game on 3rd and 2, Haaziq Daniels hit David Cormier on a deep pass for a 67 yard touchdown. The Falcons could only manage two field goals after that great start, but strong defense and a missed Navy field goal allowed the Falcons to come away with a win.
The touchdown play was a well designed play action rollout by Daniels that surprised the Midshipmen on the short yardage third down play. Cormier was wide open and outran the defense to the end zone for his third straight game with a TD reception.
After a defensive stop, the Falcons started their second drive well combining short runs and another pass to Cormier for 25 yards to march down to the Navy 5 yard line where the Midshipmen stalled the drive. Matthew Dapore hit a 23 yard field goal for a 10-0 early lead.
Neither team could move the ball much the rest of the half, but with less than a minute to go in the half, Daniels attempted a pass for Cormier, but Navy lineman Busic stripped the ball from his hand as he started the throw. Navy recovered the fumble and four plays later hit a 37 yard field goal as time ran out.
In the third and early fourth quarter, Navy was able to string together two long drives. On the first drive, the Falcon defense stiffened inside the twenty and forced a field goal attempt from 33 yards, but the kick went wide left.
On the next drive Navy tied the game with a touchdown after a 10 play, 59 yard drive on a five yard scramble by Lavatai. This is when my pucker factor skyrocketed. I’ve seen too many Air Force losses in close games with Army and Navy. I looked up the stats on it, and since 2001, Navy’s record against Air Force in one score games is 8-2. Army’s is 4-1.
It didn’t take long to calm my fears. On the next Falcon drive, Brad Roberts and Haaziq Daniels looked like men on a mission. Roberts ran 7 times for 32 yards and Daniels completed 2 passes for 32 yards, and ran for 9 yards to advance the ball down to the Navy 4 yard line. The drive stalled but Matthew Dapore came through again with a 22 yard field goal.
The defense then came up with a big 3 and out, forcing Navy to kick the ball back to the Falcons with less than 4 minutes left.
Once again, it was Roberts and Daniels who iced the game with 24 and 18 yard gains respectively to run out the clock.
The Falcon defense has given up 74 points in 5 games for an average of 14.8 points per game. There have only been two years in the option era where the scoring defense has been lower, 1985 and 1998. Falcons fans will recognize those years as the two best years over that era. Also 28 points of that total have come when the Falcons had the game locked up and were giving inexperienced players some playing time. There’s still a lot of football to be played, but this defense is shaping up to be an exceptionally stingy group.
The return of Jayden Thiergood to the defensive line helped shore up the run defense against Navy. It helped the entire line improve their performance, leading to a season high 9 TFLs.
Although Navy had some success throwing the football, I thought the DBs did a nice job sticking close to the receivers. The two long receptions featured good concentration and nice hands by the receivers. Camby Goff continued his excellence at the safety position by picking up his seventh PBU to go along with 2 interceptions, tying him for second in the country on passes defended.
Haaziq Daniels had another of his occasional games of playing loose with the ball. With their knowledge of the option offense, Navy was able to get into the backfield more often than most opponents, and Daniels had an errant pitch because of that pressure. The Falcons were fortunate that Amari Terry was able to bat the ball out of bounds. Daniels also had the fumble at the start of the second quarter when the defensive end was able to rip the ball out of his hands. He needs to take a cue from Roberts and get both hands on the ball when tacklers get close. The strip sack late in the second quarter by Busic was from the blind side, making it hard to prevent.
David Cormier was the go to guy in the passing game. He has worked hard to overcome some issues with over the shoulder catches and will be a dangerous threat for the remainder of the season. He also exhibited great speed for a receiver his size as he outran his defender on his touchdown. He is this week’s NittanyFalcon Player of the Game.
Injuries continue to plague the Falcons. Dane Kinnamon, DeAndre Hughes, Zach Larrier, and Cade Harris were not available and Kyle Patterson left the game early with an undisclosed injury. The camera showed him on the sideline later in shorts. The good news was that his knee wasn’t in a brace, so hopefully he’ll be able to return this season.
Next up will be the Utah State Aggies in Logan, Utah at 5:00pm MT on Saturday night.