Calhoun era kicks off with 34-3 win

  • Published
  • By Wayne Amann
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
For the first time in three years, Air Force football fans saw their Falcons play a home game on Parents' Weekend.

More importantly, they witnessed the bluesuiters win for the first time in five games dating back to last season.

Air Force built up a statistical advantage in every facet of the game to methodically pull away from South Carolina State, 34-3, Saturday afternoon at Falcon Stadium, in the head coaching debut of returning Academy graduate Troy Calhoun.

The former Houston Texans offensive coordinator succeeded legendary Air Force head coach Fisher DeBerry who retired at the end of last season, after 23 years at the helm.

"Walking down that tunnel the spirit of this school is intoxicating," said Calhoun when asked to reflect on his first game as the new sideline boss. "That's the cadet wing, the alumni, and the community of Colorado Springs. I loved the crowd's energy. They gave us a boost."

The buzz of anticipation in the crowd of 39,364 was rewarded on Air Force's first possession, when senior tailback Kip McCarthy capped a 13-play, 79-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run.

It was one of four Falcon touchdown drives of 70 yards or more that employed a balanced attacked between running and passing, promised by Calhoun in the off season.

One new wrinkle Calhoun added to quicken his team's pace was the no huddle offense. Each of the long TD drives took less than five minutes to execute.

"We were all nervous to see what was going to happen with this new offense," admitted Air Force senior quarterback Shaun Carney. "That first touchdown was a huge monkey off our backs. Just moving the ball down the field really helped our confidence."

Air Force out gained SCSU 455 yards to 160.

While McCarthy was having his best rushing game as a Falcon, 129 yards on 22 carries, Carney completed 11 of 18 passes for 176 yards and a 10-yard touchdown strike to senior tight end Travis Dekker, making it 14-0 early in the second quarter.

"The offensive scheme got us open," said Dekker, who led Air Force with three catches for 64 yards. "The plays were designed to get us some space and Shaun was able to deliver bullets every time."

A 48-yard Ryan Harrison field goal and a 4-yard touchdown scamper by Chad Hall, who totaled 100 all-purpose yards, ballooned the Falcons lead to 24-0 late in the first half.

The Bulldogs averted a shutout thanks to a school record-tying 51-yard field goal by Stephen Grantham on the final play of the second quarter.

Air Force defensive pressure forced an interception and a fumble, both credited to senior corner back Carson Bird, plus six sacks, eclipsing last season's high of five. Sophomore strong safety Chris Thomas led the Falcons with nine tackles.

"Our game plan was to get their offense out of their groove with our blitzing," said Thomas, who was one of seven players to make their first-career start for Air Force.

It was a day of Falcon firsts:

The victory was their first over a team from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, part of the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA).

Air Force used game captains for the first time since 1995. Seniors Garrett Rybak and Blaine Guenther represented the Falcons.

Harrison scored 10 points in his placekicking debut and averaged 48 yards a kick in his punting debut.

And, for the first time since 1979, Air Force helmets did not sport stripes down the middle.

"We made quite a few mistakes today, but they're correctable," Calhoun said. "We must correct them, given what's in store for us in September."

Air Force plays Utah, TCU and BYU the next three weeks. They were the top three pre-season picks in the Mountain West Conference.

Calhoun, a 1989 Academy grad, emphasized the significance of playing the home opener on Parent's Weekend (the last two were not, due to scheduling conflicts).

"Being able to interact with so many parents, who raised the future men and women who are going to lead our country is pretty awesome." 

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