NEW FACES AND OLD HANDS. An
early-in-the-week-shakeup along the offensive front forced the Falcons to run
their customary option attack from behind an unbalanced line, featuring a WR
lined up in a tackle's spot on occasion and without a tight end for almost the
entire game, against MWC rival New Mexico. A contest thoroughly dominated on
both sides of the line of scrimmage throughout the first half by the Falcons and
which saw Air Force take a, 21-0, lead into the locker room at halftime, became
a nightmare for Fisher DeBerry's squad in the second half due to a special
teams' breakdown of epic proportion.
Even with junior Jon Wilson making his first start at the center position in several years and freshman Caleb Morris debuting at one of the guard spots, the Falcons had no trouble moving the ball on the ground in the first half. The Falcons' running game churned out 196 yards by halftime and all three of the team's first-half TDs came via the run.
New Mexico native, Kenny Smith, returned to the starting lineup at a linebacker spot and safety Jordan Wilkie was again stationed in the secondary as each helped adrenalize an AFA defense which turned in its most impressive thirty minute performance of the season.
The Falcons' running attack was led by senior HBs Darnell Stephens and Anthony Butler. The tandem combined for 173 yards on 21 carries and a pair of TDs. Stephens capped AFA's first drive with a scintillating, tight-rope run down the East sideline for 58 yards to give the Falcons a TD and its longest play from scrimmage of the year. Stephens gained a career-high 94 yards and only a thigh contusion, suffered from a helmet hit while returning the second half opening kickoff, prevented him from registering what would have been the first 100 yard game of his career.
After QB Shaun Carney scored on a three yard burst to give the Falcons
a,14-0, lead late in the first quarter, the teams battled through the second
quarter on a scoreless basis until less than two minutes remained to be played.
Pursuant to Carney's score, the Lobos moved the ball deep into AFA territory and eventually faced a fourth and goal situation from inside the one yard line. The Falcons' defensive line stood firm and when tailback DonTrell Moore tried to catapult his way over the middle of the New Mexico offensive line he was met in midair by freshman defensive back Bobby Giannini, who stopped Moore for no gain. Call it a demonstration of sheer defensive Giannini-us.
On the Falcons' final drive of the first half Butler scampered 28 yards, without a Lobo defender laying a hand on him, with 1:43 left in the second quarter to give Air Force a three TD lead and a margin most fans thought would go unchallenged.
CAUSE FOR CONCERN. For the third time this season, and second consecutive game, the Air Force offense was rendered ineffective in the third quarter by an opposing team. On opening day Cal held the Falcons scoreless as second half play began. Navy held Air Force without a point or a first down in the fourth week of the season, and on Saturday, New Mexico's defense forced the Falcons to punt after limiting the home team to five consecutive "three and out" possessions. It was in the midst of this scenario that the game's momentum changed.
Tyson Ditmore and Joe Selander each returned blocked punts for touchdowns in the span of six and one half minutes, with each coming on either side of a 1 yard AFA TD run by fullback Adam Cole. Ironically, AFA's game winning TD drive began after a roughing the punter penalty was assessed to New Mexico for upending AFA specialist, Donny Heaton, in his own endzone. Immediately following the mark-off of the penalty, Carney completed consecutive passes to Greg Kirkwood and Alec Messerall covering a combined 63 yards. Between Heaton and the special team's second half difficulties performing their duties and New Mexico's voracious punt block exhibition, what had appeared to be an insurmountable 21 point lead, dwindled to a five point differential with almost five minutes remaining in the game.
Following Selander's TD, Air Force converted a critical third and one situation on a dive by Cole allowing the Falcons to retain possession of the ball and effectively run out the clock.
NEW BUSINESS. Air Force will practice on Wednesday and Thursday of this week as the team enjoys an open date in its schedule. The Falcons will take their, 2-1, MWC record into a meeting with BYU on Saturday, October 23rd. The Falcons will try to extend their winning streak against the Cougars to three games as the teams battle for position behind conference leading, Utah, and for a bowl bid.
The Falcons have four conference games remaining to be played with three of them set for Falcon Stadium and the fourth in Laramie against the Wyoming Cowboys.