By John Van Winkle
Academy Public Affairs
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The Falcons defense forced four turnovers and capitalized on New Mexico’s offensive miscues to down the Lobos 37-13 at University Stadium Sept. 19.
Air Force took control of the game from the first series, when the defense held firm on the Lobos’ first drive. Falcons defensive lineman Ben Garland blocked the Lobos’ field goal attempt, and defensive back Anthony Wright returned the ball to the Air Force 37-yard line.
The Falcons marched the ball down the field in 12 plays, and capped the drive with a nine-yard run by wide receiver Jonathan Warzeka to begin the Falcons first-half scoring spree.
The Falcons defense continued its domination, ending the next drive in two plays when defensive back Anthony Wright popped the ball out of Lobos’ running back Desmond Dennis’ hands. Falcons defensive back Phil Ofili recovered the fumble at the Falcons’ 38.
Starting quarterback Tim Jefferson suffered an ankle sprain early in the Falcons’ third series, but the Falcons’ offense continued firing on all cylinders with sophomore quarterback Connor Dietz at the helm. Dietz drove the Falcons into the Lobos’ red zone, with a chip-shot field goal by Eric Soderberg putting the Falcons up 10-0.
The Falcons defense continued to cause havoc for the Lobos.
“I thought it really started with the pass rush,” said Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun. “Without needing to bring a whole lot of five-man pressure, we won some one-on-ones, and when you do that, then it gives you a chance to play with your eyes.”
Falcon defensive back Jonathan Davis showed that vision on the Lobos next series. But Davis saw a pass play unfolding and cut inside New Mexico’s wide receiver, picking off Lobos quarterback Donovan Porterie and returning the interception for a touchdown. Davis’ score was the Falcons second defensive touchdown of the season. The Falcons went up 17-0 with Soderberg’s extra point.
New Mexico then benched Porterie and sent in backup QB B.R. Holbrook to jumpstart the Lobos’ offense. He moved the Lobos’ offense to within field goal range, but Falcon linebacker Andre Morris Jr. ended that drive with one of the Falcons’ four sacks on the day, forcing the Lobos to punt.
Two possessions later, the Falcons’ run-heavy option offense drove down the field to the New Mexico 6-yard line. Running back Savier Stephens stretched for a rushing touchdown to give the Falcons a 24-point lead after the Soderberg PAT.
New Mexico ended its scoring drought two plays later. Holbrook found receiver Lucas Reed downfield for a 29-yard gain, and running back James Wright scampered 43 yards into the end zone. Failing to connect on a two-point conversion, the Lobos cut their deficit to 24-6 with a little more than three minutes left in the first half.
Then the Falcons started to misfire on offense. Starting at their 42-yard line, Air Force quickly drove to the Lobos’ 9-yard line before being pushed back to the 37 on a holding penalty. With more than a minute left in the half, the Falcons offense turned ultra-conservative on their play-calling, aiming to get into a better position for a field goal. Lobos linebacker Kendall Briscoe blocked Air Force’s kick, giving New Mexico a boost going into the locker room at halftime despite an 18-point deficit.
Coming out in the second half, the Falcons special teams led off with a 60-yard return from cornerback and return specialist Reggie Rembert. But even with Rembert’s big play-return, the offense failed to hit goal-line paydirt. Despite starting the ball deep in Lobo territory on the next pair of possessions, the offense failed to capitalize on their field position and settled for field goals.
“We gave up two offensive scores, and those are things we can get fixed,” Calhoun said. “Weplayed alright, but we have to play a lot better and we’re a group that’s still learning a lot about college football.”
The team needs to dissect this game’s film, determine and overcome this game’s mistakes, and train how they’ll fight – or in this case, practice how they’ll play, Calhoun said.
“Now it’s so different that you absolutely hyperventilate, and there’s where some point and composure comes into play,” he added.
Even with the misfires, the Falcons dusted off a few passing plays and scored on a Conner Dietz 28-yard strike to wide receiver Kevin Fogler. With Soderberg’s extra point, the Falcons went up 37-6.
Calhoun also cycled in a number of second-and third stringers in the second half, giving as many Falcons playing time to speed up that learning curve and increase the capability of his team’s depth.
The Lobos kept the game interesting, showing their true character by never giving up. On their final drive, Lobos running back James Wright took a handoff at the New Mexico 16-yard line, darted off the left end and capitalized on a missed assignment to break into the open. He raced down the left sideline for New Mexico’s second touchdown of the game.
“I was just trying to stay uplifted and keep my teammates encouraged,” said Wright. “We tried to make big plays and get the offense going. Anytime you do anything, good or bad, you must look at it, learn from it and excel from it.”
The win boosted Air Force’s record to 2-1 and 1-0 in the Mountain West Conference. The Lobos fell to 0-3 and 0-1 in the MWC.
Air Force returns home for its next game against San Diego State at Falcon Stadium Sept. 26. San Diego State enters the game at 1-2 following a 34-20 loss to Idaho Sept. 19.