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Navy blows 21-point lead but beats Air Force late in a Commander-in-Chief’s thriller

The Midshipmen averted disaster late.

Navy narrowly avoided an epic collapse of a loss to rival Air Force on Saturday in Annapolis. The Midshipmen won, 48-45, on a touchdown pass from Zach Abey to Tyler Carmona with 15 seconds left, capping a 75-yard drive on 11 plays in 1:38.

Look how happy that made Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo:

Navy led 38-17 six minutes into the third quarter. The Midshipmen scored 14 points off Air Force fumbles and appeared to have things in hand.

They did not have things in hand, it turned out. Air Force rattled off a furious comeback, going on a 28-3 run to pull ahead on a 51-yard pass from Arion Worthman to Marcus Bennett. Navy’s 21-point lead evaporated in 21 minutes of clock time.

Air Force nearly pulled this thing off. Had its defense held late, it would’ve. In the end, it’s a gut-punch defeat for Troy Calhoun’s Falcons. It’s a sigh of relief for Navy.

Air Force-Navy doesn’t have the pageantry of Army-Navy, but it’s a huge, bitter rivalry. All the games for the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy are, and this one means a ton:

“From us, our era, and I think this has kinda stuck since, but we wanted to beat Air Force from a player’s perspective probably more so than Army,” J.D. Gainey, a lineman in the class of 1998, said. “The reason why I say that is that Army-Navy — that’s a natural, expected rivalry. Everybody in the country recognizes it. It’s really for the fans and it’s really for the alumni to get together.”

“One thing I know about that game was there’s a lot more trash talk in Air Force-Navy than Army-Navy,” Wyatt Middleton, a safety in the class of 2011, said.

Air Force is relatively new blood. Army and Navy were both established before 1850. It would take another hundred years for the Air Force Academy to come around. Army and Navy have met on the gridiron in nearly every year since 1890. The rivalry has only been three-pronged since 1972.