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Falcons, Middies and a really big game

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – Cadet 4th Class Corey Birdow, U.S. Air Force Academy football team fullback, suits up before the Air Force vs. Navy game in Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo., Oct. 1, 2016. The Army Black Knights, the Navy Midshipmen and Air Force Falcons compete in a triangular series for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, which is awarded to each season's winner. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – Cadet 4th Class Corey Birdow, U.S. Air Force Academy football team fullback, suits up before the Air Force vs. Navy game in Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo., Oct. 1, 2016. The Army Black Knights, the Navy Midshipmen and Air Force Falcons compete in a triangular series for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, which is awarded to each season's winner. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – Cadet 3rd Class Ronald Cleveland, U.S. Air Force Academy football team wide receiver, celebrates with teammates and fans in Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo., Oct. 1, 2016. The Air Force Falcons continue their undefeated season after overpowering the Navy Midshipmen with a final score of 28 - 14. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – Cadet 3rd Class Ronald Cleveland, U.S. Air Force Academy football team wide receiver, celebrates with teammates and fans in Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo., Oct. 1, 2016. The Air Force Falcons continue their undefeated season after overpowering the Navy Midshipmen with a final score of 28 - 14. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – The U.S. Air Force Academy football team sings the USAFA Alma Mater after defeating the Navy Midshipmen in Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo., Oct. 1, 2016. The Army Black Knights, the Navy Midshipmen and Air Force Falcons compete in a triangular series for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, which is awarded to each season's winner. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – The U.S. Air Force Academy football team sings the USAFA Alma Mater after defeating the Navy Midshipmen in Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo., Oct. 1, 2016. The Army Black Knights, the Navy Midshipmen and Air Force Falcons compete in a triangular series for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, which is awarded to each season's winner. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – Cadet 1st Class Jalen Robinette, U.S. Air Force Academy football team wide receiver, reacts to a touchdown by Cadet 2nd Class Tim McVey, USAFA football team running back, during the Air Force vs. Navy game in Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo., Oct. 1, 2016. This was the first in a 49-game series where both teams were undefeated moving into the fourth game of the season. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – Cadet 1st Class Jalen Robinette, U.S. Air Force Academy football team wide receiver, reacts to a touchdown by Cadet 2nd Class Tim McVey, USAFA football team running back, during the Air Force vs. Navy game in Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo., Oct. 1, 2016. This was the first in a 49-game series where both teams were undefeated moving into the fourth game of the season. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – A Wings of Blue skydiver parachutes into Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo., Oct. 1, 2016. The Wings of Blue has both a demonstration team and a competition team. The demonstration team travels across the country to airshows, sporting events, and other venues to represent the Air Force through precision parachuting. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – A Wings of Blue skydiver parachutes into Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo., Oct. 1, 2016. The Wings of Blue has both a demonstration team and a competition team. The demonstration team travels across the country to airshows, sporting events, and other venues to represent the Air Force through precision parachuting. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- It’s fall in Colorado. Snowy white caps are forming on mountain peaks like wisps of hair on an old man’s head. Leaves of the Aspen trees contribute a glowing gold to the stunning palette of seasonal foliage against the background of evergreen trees.

All of the blessings nature bestows on the region took a back seat, because it was the weekend of the U.S. Air Force Academy Falcons vs. the U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen and the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy was on the line. Both teams entered the contest undefeated for the first time in the 49-game series.

Emotions were high the week before the game. Falcon players tried to remain steady in the lead-up to the big game. In the pre-game press conference early in the week, they tried to remain disciplined in their routine, focusing on practice as if it was for any other game. But, it wasn’t.

When asked by a local sports reporter what would be worse, losing a girlfriend or losing the C-I-C trophy, awarded to the military academy team that beats the other two, almost all of the players responded that not getting the trophy would be far more painful.

“Losing the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy would be worse, 100 times over,” said Brodie Hicks, senior defensive back and Falcon High School product.

Senior offensive lineman Dylan Vail said the buildup to the Navy game is a year-round endeavor because the game must be won to gain the coveted trophy.

“It means everything,” Vail said. “You get one chance a year to get it and then go to the White House. We’ve got to get it back.”

Airmen and cadets were as focused on this game as the players were. Members of Team Pete, wherever they were found, emphatically predicted a Falcons victory, many even bold enough to claim the C-I-C trophy was as good as won. The exception was two Navy F-35 pilots who, upon landing at Peterson Air Force Base, said it was one more time the Navy finished ahead of the Air Force.

“We hear about it non-stop from people on campus,” said Jacob Onyechi, senior linebacker for the Falcons. “If we do not beat Navy, we can’t go back to class or eat at our table.”

“Seeing morale this high is good,” Hicks said. “It means a lot to get (the C-I-C trophy) back. We had it and saw it taken away.”

When game day rolled around Saturday, Oct. 1, it was a perfect day for football. Warm temperatures, plenty of sunshine and a clear, blue sky. Hours before kickoff, crowds gathered in the parking lots to tailgate and get even more pumped up, listening to pre-game shows on radio and televisions. The sound of sizzling meat cooking on many grills was a soundtrack building in intensity as the stadium filled.

Anticipation of an Air Force victory was palpable high above the stands as well, where a private suite filled with the Air Force’s top generals, in town for the CORONA conference, burst with raucous cheers upon every positive Falcons play.

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James, adorned in a Falcons jersey and blue football gloves, and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein were not immune to the heat of the game, standing and cheering with the 43,000-plus fans in the stadium when Hicks blocked a Navy punt.

The weather seemed to send a signal as the game wound down. Dark clouds rolled in and rain was imminent, but it was already raining on Navy’s day. In the southeast corner of the stadium, the white-clad Navy contingent were adrift and downcast, waiting for the final whistle to blow. Even a Midshipmen touchdown with 10 seconds remaining could not put the wind back in their sails.

Possibly a fulfillment of Airman prophecy, the Falcons sunk the Middies 28-14. The Air Force defense held the Navy to only 57 yards rushing, 259 below their average. Air Force receivers Jalen Robinette and Tim McVey made acrobatic TD catches reminiscent of the famed Thunderbirds air demonstration squadron.

The thousands of fans streaming out of the stadium, through a rain that would not allow the Navy faithful a reprieve from their sad outcome, were still riding the wave of excitement as the C-I-C trophy moved a step closer to returning to a waiting home in the Falcons’ trophy case.

For this year, the Air Force is back on top of the Navy and in the driver’s seat to win its 20th C-I-C trophy, and that’s a good feeling for Airmen and their fans. It is only fitting that the on-field leader of the Falcons summed up the final emotion.

“It was an awesome moment,” said senior quarterback Nate Romine, “Running from the south end zone (where the Navy alma mater was sung) to the north (where the AF alma mater was sung), I can’t even talk about it.”

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