Falcons fall 38-34 in final seconds

  • Published
  • By John Van Winkle
  • Air Force Academy Public Affairs
The Air Force Academy Falcons came three yards and two kicks short of winning their final regular season game Nov. 23 against San Diego State University.

Wind gusts of 11 to 18 mph played havoc with the kicking game, sending punts astray and contributing to a missed extra point and field goal. The missed points came back to haunt the Falcons when the Aztecs scored with 58 seconds left in the fourth quarter, to go up 38-34.

After the Aztecs' kickoff, the Falcons began their final drive from their 20-yard line. Then the Falcons, who lead the nation in rushing offense came out in an uncharacteristic pass-oriented attack.

A short pass to halfback Leotis Palmer and an 11-yard run by quarterback Chance Harridge moved the ball 12 yards. Harridge completed two more passes to Tom Heier and Ricky Amazega to move to the San Diego 43-yard line with 23 seconds left.

The drive stalled when the Falcons moved the ball just three yards on the next two plays, leaving them with a third down and seven yards to go for a first down, with 13 seconds left on the clock.

The next call was an attempt to take advantage of Air Force's strengths and San Diego State's defense. Harridge ran the option play, but was pulled down for a four-yard loss by Akbar Gbaja-Biamila.

With a handful of seconds left, the Falcons went for a long pass, sending out tight end Adam Strecker and wide receivers J.P. Messerall and Amazega.

"It was Strecker who went up and took the ball," said Fisher DeBerry, Falcons head football coach. "He made a great play, but we came up three yards short."

Strecker came down with the ball at the three-yard line as time expired, leaving Air Force three yards short of a win.

"You saw some things today that were very uncharacteristic of Falcon football. And you can't say the game was lost offensively, defensively or in the kicking game, because we had down moments in all three areas of the game," DeBerry said.

"I'm also very disappointed that we've lost three games at home this year, Again that's very uncharacteristic of Falcon Football. We don't think you're supposed to lose at home... period. And we've lost three games here," he said.

With the loss, the Falcons end the regular season at 8-4, which is a far cry from preseason predictions. Analysts predicted the Falcons would finish sixth or seventh in the eight-team Mountain West Conference and not win a conference game, said DeBerry. But those predictions were proven wrong by a team that led the nation in rushing offense for most of the season, knocked California from the top 25 rankings and went nose-to-nose with Notre Dame and Colorado State University.

DeBerry said he is not disappointed because they never gave up and are headed for a bowl game.

The conference can send four schools to a bowl, and the Falcons are currently No. 3 in the conference. Conference winner CSU will get the Liberty Bowl invite, leaving Air Force in line for one of the three remaining bowls, in either Las Vegas, San Francisco or Seattle. Four of the conference's teams play Nov. 30, so a final decision on the Falcon's bowl invitation is not expected to be announced until the first week in December.

If the Falcons win their bowl game, they will become only the 10th team in school history to win nine games in a season.