After an eight-year drought, the Air Force Academy is poised to hoist the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy for the second straight season.
Well, hoist may not exactly be the right word.
It was in the middle of a practice last season -- shortly after the Falcons clinched their first CIC Trophy since 2002 -- that a golf cart rolled onto the field.
"Practice stopped," Asher Clark recalled in a phone interview. "It was one of the biggest trophies I had ever seen in my life."
Indeed the prestigious trophy, which goes to the winner of the series between the service academies, is 2.5 feet high and weighs 170 pounds. Clark said it was an incredibly special moment when they were able to see and hold the Trophy for the first time. But what would make winning the Trophy again this season much more special is the trip to the White House that goes with being a senior.
Air Force has the edge to win again after a wild 35-34 overtime win over Navy earlier in the season. Navy erased an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit and then scored first in overtime. But Navy quarterback Kriss Proctor was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct following his 1-yard touchdown run, and the 35-yard extra-point attempt was blocked by Alex Means. Tim Jefferson scored a touchdown on the next possession and Air Force made its extra point, giving it the advantage in the race for the CIC Trophy.
The Falcons have won five straight over Army, including a 47-22 win last season. Army has only won twice in the past 21 meetings between the service academies.
One big key to watch this season is whether both starting quarterbacks are able to play. Jefferson got hurt last week in an Air Force win over New Mexico, while Army starter Trent Steelman sat out a win over Fordham last week with a high ankle sprain. Army coach Rich Ellerson said Steelman was questionable for the game Saturday. Max Jenkins and Angel Santiago would play if Steelman is out again.
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said of Jefferson: "It will be pretty tough to keep him out, and yet we've just got to make sure physically that he's sound." Connor Dietz would start if Jefferson cannot go, and he has got the full backing of his coach and teammates. He had 87 yards and a touchdown run last week in the 42-0 win over the Lobos.
While this game may not carry the prestige of Army vs. Navy, it still is an important rivalry game, one with a weighty trophy on the line.
"Obviously, that's part of the drama, but that won't impact the outcome," Ellerson said. "That's something that's part of our culture here. It's part of everybody's sensibilities. They know that's on the line. We'll have a great week of practice. This is a relatively easy week from a head coaching perspective. You have to make some good decisions along the way, personnel-wise and style of play-wise, but in terms of getting guys excited to practice, excited to play, just get out of the way. They're really looking forward to playing."