By John Van Winkle
Academy Public Affairs
FORT COLLINS, Colo., – The Falcons’ offense got back on track Halloween night, gaining 382 yards in a convincing 34-16 win over the Colorado State University Rams.
On the ground, the Falcons have out-rushed their opponents in all eight previous games this season, and made that nine straight games, grinding out 271 yards while allowing CSU to rush for 187 yards.A third of the Air Force rushing carries again went to fullback Jared Tew, who had 145 combined yards in the game.
The new wrinkle on offense was an effective, albeit slightly more utilized passing attack, behind sophomore quarterback Tim Jefferson.
“We go into every game and try to take our shots,” said Falcons head football coach Troy Calhoun.”We just have to make more of those plays. It helps when you’re able to grind out some first downs; I think guys get a little bit antsy and nudge closer to the line of scrimmage when you do that.”
Jefferson threw a dozen times for seven completions, 111 yards and two touchdowns, which is Air Force’s largest aerial attack on the gridiron this season.
Jefferson regained his starter status after an injury last week to fellow sophomore quarterback Connor Dietz sidelined Dietz for an estimated three weeks.Jefferson got the call to return to the starting QB role, and justified his coaches’ confidence in him with his first touchdown play.
On the Falcons’ first possession, Jefferson let the team 72 yards on 13 plays, to put the ball on the 8 yard line. Taking the snap, Jefferson was forced to roll out of the pocket and improvised with a touchdown toss to wide receiver Kyle Halderman.
“That was a big time play he made on the first touchdown. He had pressure, and he was able to get out of that pressure and spontaneously made a big play,” said Coach Calhoun, noting that Jefferson’s play is evidence of his continued development as a quarterback.
“He seemed older in the way he played, more assertive, more mature, at the same time we’re pushing him pretty hard, too.In a way we’re wanting something real, real soon, but there’s probably a right balance you have to strike in terms of nudging a guy and yet at the same time giving him some time.”
Jefferson took the coaching to heart, leading the Falcons to another score and a 14-0 lead.
CSU’s offense finally got into gear, have three different individuals take the snap in their own attempt to add a bit of wildcat to their Rams offense.Behind a strong rushing game, CSU came back with a field goal and a touchdown in the second quarter, to cut the Air Force lead to 14-10.After CSU’s first touchdown, the kickoff gave the gave the Falcons the ball back on the 26 yard line with 1:35 left in the half, and Air Force manifested its first bonafide two-minute offense of the season. To date, the Academy’s two-minute offense has been about as energetic as a two-hour nap, and equally as productive.The Falcons have either been unable or unwilling to run a quick drill to add to the score at the half, and when they have, the results to date had been either an outright failure to score, or settling for a field goal attempt.
But this time, the Falcons aired the ball out twice on the drive, worked the sidelines and paid attention to the clock, showing their most lively clock management of the season.Jefferson led the seven-play, 57 yard drive and managed the clock well enough to well enough to allow placekicker Eric Soderberg to complete a 50-yard field goal to end the half with the Falcons up 17-10.
“That was a big play, when you’re up by seven and you’re receiving the kickoff in the second half, it gives the leading team a definite advantage,” said Coach Calhoun.
The second half was all Air Force until the end, with three Falcon scores to put them firmly ahead 34-10.
CSU kept punching away, and managed to push their way in the end zone with 3:48 left in the game, to lower their scoreboard deficit to 34-16.The two-point conversion failed, leaving CSU a moral victory.
But there could be a bigger loss for Air Force, when linebacker Justin Moore went down on the series with a knee injury. The starting defense had remained in the game, even though the win was well in hand. Now, the 3-4 Air Force defense has added another injury to its already depleted linebacker corps, which is starting a freshman at outside linebacker.
The Academy’s remaining players foiled CSU’s on-side kick attempt, and the Falcons ground out the clock to end the game with a 34-16 win.
The win over CSU raises The Academy’s record to 5-4 overall, and 4-2 in the Mountain West Conference.The Falcons have three games remaining in the regular season, with the next two being against Army (3-5 overall), and conference foe UNLV (3-6 overall, 1-4 in MWC). The Falcons close their regular season against BYU (6-2 overall, 3-1 in MWC).All three games are winnable for Air Force.The only team with a winning record on the schedule, BYU, was dismantled on national television last week 38-7 by conference foe and No. 6-ranked TCU – which is the same team that Air Force battled down to the wire in a 17-20 loss two games ago.The Falcons have lost four games by a total of 20 points, including last week’s overtime loss to No. 19 Utah.
Only one game away from bowl eligibility, and with three games left in the season, Coach Calhoun is keeping the Falcons focused on one game at a time.And for their next football game, records are meaningless as they face Army Saturday at Falcon Stadium.The Army game will be the centerpiece of several days of sporting events, as the two rival service academies will face off in boxing, climbing, rifle and intramural competitions, culminating in the Army-Air Force football game to earn another year’s worth of bragging rights.
Pre-game events for the Air Force-Army gridiron battle will be televised on ESPN College GameDay, and kickoff is at 1:30 p.m. MST.