Football: Opportunistic Falcons topple New Mexico

  • Published
  • By Maj. Brett Ashworth
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
Air Force survived a first quarter marred by turnovers and a strong New Mexico running game to pull out a 23-10 victory at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Oct. 23. 

The Falcons turned the ball over on three of their first four possessions, spotting the Lobos 10 points while allowing 149 total yards, 101 on the ground. New Mexico was looking to push their lead to 17-0 following Air Force's third turnover of the quarter, when Lobo quarterback Brad Gruner connected with Jermaine McQueen on a 38-yard pass play to the Air Force 13. Two plays later Gruner was stripped of the ball by Falcon linebacker Brandon Reeves. Senior safety Aaron Kirchoff scooped up the fumble and scampered 96 yards for a Falcon touchdown. The return was the second longest in school history. 

"I think that was the big momentum shift," said New Mexico head coach Rocky Long. "Yet, there was a lot of game left to be played. That didn't win the game for them. That got them back into the game." 

Both teams settled down in the second quarter with kicker Ryan Harrison converting on the first of three field goals to tie the game at 10 going into the intermission. 

"Our young kids, this is the first time they played on national television on Thursday night," said Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun. "They just needed to settle down and play." 

Air Force took advantage of one of New Mexico's four turnovers when they recovered a Lobo fumble on the second half kickoff. It took the Falcons seven plays to march 26 yards for the go-ahead score. Quarterback Tim Jefferson connected with tight end Travis Dekker on a one-yard jump pass to put the Falcons ahead 17-10. They would never look back. 

The Falcons defense stepped up following the first quarter, allowing the Lobos 151 yards the rest of the game while stopping them on three of four fourth down attempts. Safety Chris Thomas paced the Falcons with 10 tackles while cornerback Reggie Rembert made nine tackles, including one for a loss of yards. 

"It's a simple deal tonight (on fourth downs). If you turn the ball over and then you can't make 4th-and-short, you're going to lose," Long said. 

Two Harrison field goals in the fourth quarter provided the final scoring, icing the game for the Falcons. The second of which culminated a 14-play, 51-yard, clock consuming 7:33 drive, all but ending any Lobo hopes of a comeback. 

Freshman running back Asher Clark led a balanced rushing attack for the Falcons with 86 yards on 23 carries. Fullback Todd Newell added 65 yards and Jefferson chipped in 64. Air Force only put the ball in the air three times with the one completion to Dekker. 

"That's a gut-it-out win. I thought in the first quarter we really struggled. It was because we weren't ready to play, our guys were stirred up, maybe too much. After we settled down a little bit I thought we played pretty good football for the last two and a half quarters," Coach Calhoun said. 

The win pushed their season record to 6-2, and 4-1 in Mountain West Conference play. The six wins also make them bowl eligible for the second consecutive season.
The Falcons are back in action Nov. 1 against Army at Michie Stadium at the United States Military Academy. 

"We're going to have a tough one nine days when we go up to play Army," Coach Calhoun said. "Those are always tough ones. They are always very intense football games." 

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