Football: Falcons defense stops Utah, 20-12

  • Published
  • By Wayne Amann
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
The U.S. Air Force Academy Falcons football team clung onto an eight-point lead by stuffing Utah on two consecutive running plays at the Falcon 1-yard line with less than two minutes to play in the fourth quarter to preserve a 20-12 Air Force win Sept. 8 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.

Falcons linebacker Aaron Shanor and cornerback Reggie Rembert stopped Ute running back Eddie Wide on a third down and goal, then on fourth down, Falcons linebacker Drew Fowler stood up Utah's Darryl Poston two feet shy of the goal line while linebacker Hunter Altman hit him high to finish the play.

"You've got to love the resolve of the crew on that side of the ball," said Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun. "A bunch of them are seniors who rose to the occasion. That's the way we're going to have to win frequently this year."

The victory snapped the Falcons (2-0, 1-0 in the Mountain West Conference) four-game losing streak against Utah (0-2, 0-1 MWC) dating back to 2002. Air Force leads the all-time series 14-10. The Utes were 83-28-1 in home openers.

The first half ended in an uncharacteristically low scoring 3-3 tie because of the stingy play of both defensive units.

The Falcons finally got into the end zone with 11:02 left in the third quarter when freshman tailback Savier Stephens capped a seven-play, 53-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run, his second TD of the young season.

On the next Air Force possession, Stephens appeared to fumble at the Falcon 5-yard line. However, Coach Calhoun challenged the call. Upon further review, the ruling was reversed. It was the second successful challenge by Coach Calhoun in the game.

Utah closed within 10-6 before the end of the third quarter, and its defense stymied Air Force fullback Ryan Williams on a fourth-and-one situation at the Ute 47-yard line early in the fourth quarter to grab momentum.

The Falcons defense grabbed it back on the next play when safety Chris Thomas made a diving interception of a Tommy Grady pass at the Air Force 36.

It took the Falcons offense just three running plays to capitalize on the turnover. Set up by senior quarterback Shaun Carney's 53-yard gallop, running back Jim Ollis scored from 4 yards out to balloon Air Force's lead to 17-6.

"We felt we could run right at them," said Carney who had a game-high 113 yards on 16 carries. "Our offensive line was doing a great job up front. We knew it was going to be a 60-minute game and relied on our conditioning to outlast them. We had a lot of success."

Falcons runners totaled 334 yards on 63 carries, enabling Air Force to hold a 32:51 to 27:09 time of possession advantage.

An interception by cornerback Garrett Ryback in the first quarter and an 8-yard sack of Grady by defensive end Jake Paulsen in the fourth kept the Utah offense from getting into a sustained rhythm.

The Utes struck for a 34-yard Grady-to-Derrek Richards touchdown pass with 6:24 left in the game. But, Thomas tackled Grady in the backfield to thwart the two-point conversion.

Air Force place kicker Ryan Harrison's 31-yard field goal, his second of the game with 3:11 to play, set the stage for the Falcons' goal-line heroics.

"Once the ball was handed off, we just reacted," Altman said. "Drew came up and stuck him, then I hit him high and he didn't get in. I never went over the top like that before. I've seen it on TV a million times. That was the greatest goal-line stand I've ever been in. Our defense is aggressive now."

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