Football: Falcons feast on turnovers, down New Mexico 37-13

  • Published
  • By John Van Winkle
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
The U.S. Air Force Academy defense forced four turnovers and capitalized on New Mexico's offensive miscues to down the Lobos 37-13 here Sept. 19 in NCAA football action.

Air Force took control of the game from the first series, when the defense held firm on the Lobo's first drive, limiting their progress to a field goal attempt, and the kick was blocked by Falcon defensive lineman Ben Garland and recovered by defensive back Anthony Wright at the Air Force 37 yard line.

The Falcons marched the ball down the field in 12 plays, and capped the drive when wide receiver Jonathan Warzeka ran it in from 9 yards out to put the first points on the board and begin the Falcons' first-half scoring spree.

The Falcons defense continued its domination of New Mexico, ending the next drive in two plays when defensive back Anthony Wright popped the ball loose of Lobo running back Desmond Dennis' hands. Falcon defensive back Phil Ofili recovered the fumble at the Falcons 38.

This gave the Falcon fans plenty to get loud about, but they fell silent three plays later when starting quarterback Tim Jefferson went down and stayed down after completing a 19-yard pass to Warzeka. Trainers tended to the quarterback and after encouraging words from head coach Troy Calhoun, Jefferson came off the field.

Jefferson sat out the rest of the game with a sprained right ankle. While the trainers said he could have returned to the game if needed, they chose the conservative course of action and the quarterback's night was done. His status for the next game will not be available until Sept. 22.

But the Falcons' offensive continued firing on all cylinders with sophomore quarterback Connor Dietz at the helm. Dietz drove the Falcons into the Lobos' red zone, which led to 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," Coach Calhoun said. "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."

Falcons defensive back Jonathan Davis showed that vision on the next series. With little time in the pocket for their quarterback to avoid getting mauled, the Lobos called a quick two-step toss on third and 10 to wide receiver on the formation's left end, hoping the rapid strike would allow the receiver to make a play on the defender and get to the second level. But Davis saw the play unfolding and cut inside for the interception. Davis' steal started a bluesuiter stampede to the end zone, ending in a scrum at the goal line with Davis on the bottom of the pile for the score. Davis' score was the Falcons' second defensive touchdown of the season. With a Soderberg extra point, the Falcons went up 17-0.

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 he still couldn't get their offense ramped up quickly enough. Falcons linebacker Andre Morris Jr., ended that drive with one of the Falcons' four sacks, and forced the punt.

Two possessions later, the Falcons' run-heavy option offense drove down the field to the New Mexico 6 yard line. The second effort of running back Savier Stephens led to a touchdown as he stretched the ball out over the goal line, after a Lobo hit him but failed to wrap Stephens up. Soderberg's extra point was good, putting Air Force up 24-0.

New Mexico came back to finally end their scoring drought after two long-distance passes burned the Falcons secondary for a 43-yard touchdown. Failing to connect on a two-point conversion, the Lobos only cut their deficit to 24-6 with a little more than three minutes left in the half.

Then the Falcons started to misfire on offense.

The Falcons started at their 42 yard line. They quickly drove down to the Lobos' 9 yard line, until a holding penalty moved the ball back 10 yards from the previous line of scrimmage, back to the 37. With more than a minute left in the half, the Falcons offense lost all steam and turned ultra-conservative on their play-calling, aiming to only get into a better position for a field goal.

When the Falcons tried for that field goal with three seconds left in the half, Lobos linebacker Kendall Briscoe blocked the kick. The block gave New Mexico a boost going into the locker room at halftime, even though they were still down 24-6.

Coming out in the second half, the Falcons special teams led off with a 60-yard return from cornerback/return specialist Reggie Rembert. But even with Rembert's typical big play-return, the offense failed to hit goalline paydirt. Despite starting the ball deep in Lobos 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," Coach Calhoun said. "We played all right, but we have to play a lot better and we're a group that's still learning a lot about college football. What's got to happen with our football team is ... just because you see it in practice, it's different on Saturdays."

Which means the team needs to dissect this game's film, determine and overcome this game's mistakes, and train how they're going to fight, or in this case, practice how they're going to play, Coach 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 toss to wide receiver Kevin Fogler. With Soderberg's extra point, the Falcons went up 37-6.

Coach 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 worked to keep the game interesting, showing their true character by never giving up. On their final drive, the Lobos scored a touchdown. 

The win boosted the Air Force's record to 2-1, and 1-0 in the Mountain West Conference. The Academy returns home for its next game, Sept. 26 against San Diego State.