Falcons self destruct in 34-31 loss

  • Published
  • By Wayne Amann
  • U. S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
It was easy to put a finger on why Air Force lost, 34-31, to New Mexico Oct. 25 in Mountain West Conference play at University Stadium in Albuquerque -- the Falcons couldn't keep their hands on the football.

The bluesuiters lost a season-high five fumbles, three in the fourth quarter, which turned a close game in the Lobos favor.

New Mexico converted three of the turnovers into 18 points, largely because all five giveaways were committed inside the Air Force 30-yard line.

Ironically, the Falcons entered the game with a plus-10 turnover ratio.

"You take so much pride in turnover margin and ball security. It's something you practice constantly. We didn't do that very well tonight," Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun sid. "We have to do something differently to correct that. A couple (fumbles) weren't even forced and that's what's disappointing. I wish we would have made them earn it more tonight."

The Falcons started out that way. New Mexico took the opening kickoff and had to drive 71 yards in 11 plays to take a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by tailback Rodney Ferguson. The Lobo workhorse logged a game-high 41 carries for 146 yards and two touchdowns.

On New Mexico's next possession Air Force linebacker Aaron Shanor intercepted a pass deflected off Lobo wide receiver Marcus Smith. Four plays later Falcon Z-back Chad Hall ran in from 1-yard out to tie the game at 7-7.

New Mexico (6-2, 3-1 MWC) regained the lead in the see-saw affair 3:08 later, when Lobo kicker John Sullivan hit the first of his four field goals.

The Falcons appeared to take control in the second quarter. Z-back Ty Paffett scored a 21-yard touchdown on an end around three minutes into the stanza. Then Air Force linebacker Hunter Altman recovered a fumble by Lobo quarterback Donavan Porterie.
On the next play Hall scored on an 18-yard touchdown run and the Falcons led 21-10.

Hall entered the game as the only player in the nation to lead his team in rushing and receiving. The senior ran for 97 yards and caught six passes for 66 more against the Lobos, but also had one of the five fumbles, although it didn't cost Air Force any points. 

"We put it on the ground too many times and left our defense in bad position," Hall said. "We mishandled the ball, that's our fault. We didn't pay attention to the little things."

Despite poor field position, the Air Force defense held the Lobos to just 4-of-18 third-down conversions.

The Falcons 11-point lead evaporated in 13 seconds. After a 20-yard Sullivan field goal made it 21-13, Paffett fumbled the ensuing kickoff at the Falcon 12-yard line. One play later, Porterie threw a touchdown pass to tight end Chris Mark, and a two-point conversion to Mark, and the game was tied 21-21 at halftime.

Air Force kicker Ryan Harrison gave the Falcons a 24-21 third quarter lead with a 28-yard field goal. But, when New Mexico was forced to punt on their next possession, the ball bounced off punt returner Garrett Rybak's hand for another fumble at the Falcon 12.

Four plays later, Ferguson's 3-yard touchdown run put the Lobos in front, 28-24.

Air Force (6-3, 5-2 MWC) rallied with a 65-yard drive, capped by an 8-yard TD scamper by Jim Ollis, to recapture the lead 31-28 after three quarters.

But, after Sullivan tied matters at 31 with a 32-yard field goal early in the fourth, Falcon quarterback Shaun Carney, who completed 10-of-18 passes for 110 yards, fumbled the center snap at his own 28-yard line.

Sullivan capitalized by hitting a 36-yard field goal with 10:10 to play for the eventual game winner.

The Falcons had two more chances to pull it out late. But, fumbles on consecutive possessions by Hall, and receiver Mark Root after a completion, sealed Air Force's fate.

New Mexico had 325 total yards of offense to 322 for Air Force. Both teams had 18 first downs.

Earlier in the week, several Falcons were weakened by a stomach flu and either did not play or had to leave the field. But, it was fumble-itis, that was the tougher malady for them to swallow.

"If you don't play the game extraordinarily well fundamentally, especially at the Academy, there's not going to be a large margin for error," Calhoun said. 

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