When Navy plays Air Force, the stakes are always higher than other regular-season games.
The teams will meet for the 50th time Oct. 7 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in the first leg of the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy series.
Navy, which last won the trophy in 2015, is determined to bring it back to Annapolis, Md., and a victory against the Falcons will go a long way toward accomplishing that goal. The winner of the Navy-Air Force game has gone on to win the trophy every year since 1997.
Interest in the game is at an all-time high. The Midshipmen are expecting a potentially record-breaking crowd, eclipsing the 38,205 fans that filled their stadium in 2013 for the Air Force game.
"We have a ton of respect for Air Force," Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said during his weekly teleconference. "A great football program with a great coaching staff. Troy Calhoun is one of the best head coaches in the country."
Navy has won the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy in 10 of the past 14 years. The Mids have also won 24 of the past 29 service academy games against Air Force and Army.
However, the Falcons beat Navy, 28-14, last season. Air Force also topped Army, 31-12, to win the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy.
This year, the Mids have the talent to take the trophy back.
Navy is paced by junior quarterback Zach Abey, an Archbishop Spalding alum who has been effective running the triple-option offense. Abey was named the American Athletic Conference co-Offensive Player of the Week after running for 185 yards with three touchdowns during a 31-21 win at Tulsa Sept. 30.
Abey has run for more than 100 yards in five consecutive games dating back to last year's Armed Forces Bowl against Louisiana Tech. He is ranked third nationally with 164 rushing yards per game and has seven rushing touchdowns, tied for the 10th in the nation.
"I've been really proud of the way Zach has played the last two games," Niumatalolo said. "He's done a really good job of running our offense and taking care of the ball. He's a really tough, hard-nosed kid -- a tough guy to tackle inside the box. A good kid who is humble and keeps working hard."
Navy is off to a 4-0 start for the second time in three years. Air Force, though, could pose the biggest challenge so far.
Air Force enters the game 1-3. However, those losses were to No. 7 Michigan (29-13), No. 24 San Diego State (28-24) and New Mexico (56-38). The Falcons cruised past VMI, 62-0, for their only win.
Air Force quarterback Arion Worthman is a dual threat. He has run for 250 yards and three touchdowns and thrown for 396 yards and six touchdowns. Running back Tim McVey leads the team with 278 yards and three touchdowns.
Both teams are built for a high-scoring game.
"Always a good program," Niumatalolo said. "They have played everyone tough. We know the players because a lot them we recruited. We're going to have our hands full."
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