Falcons stun Utah Utes 30-26, advance to 4-0
By John Van Winkle, Air Force Academy Public Affairs
/ Published September 30, 2002
SALT LAKE CITY (AFPN) -- A 20-yard play-action pass from quarterback Chance Harridge to halfback Don Clark in the corner of the end zone with 17 seconds left preserved Air Force's perfect season.
Clark's game-winning score was his second touchdown reception of the game, and marks the emergence of a passing game into the Falcons' arsenal.
The mainstay of the Falcon's offense -- the running game -- accounted for the Falcons' first points of the game, as they went up 6-0.
Then the game turned disastrous for the Falcons as the Utes unleashed their latest weapon, halfback Brandon Warfield. He was only a blip on the pre-game radar screen, having carried 16 times for 32 yards in the two games since senior tailback Marty Johnson was hurt, and sitting down at third on the depth chart.
Warfield had the hot hand in the first half, running right into the middle of the Air Force defense for 144 yards rushing and three touchdowns. The Utes added to their scoring carnage with a field goal and a safety from a blocked punt. That left the Falcons behind 6-26 as they headed into the locker room at halftime.
However, they emerged a different team after head coach Fisher DeBerry's halftime speech.
"To be honest, I told them if they thought they were out of it, then they were out of it. But if you don't think we're out of it, then we're going to come back and win this game," said DeBerry.
"Nothing is impossible if you believe in it."
That belief manifested itself into 24 unanswered points. The Falcons comeback started with sophomore linebacker Anthony Schlegel forcing a Utah fumble on a well-timed blitz. From the turnover, Harridge hit Clark on a play-action pass for a 29-yard scoring strike. Ashcroft's kick was good, and the Falcons narrowed the score to 13-26.
Air Force continued delivering a lesson in smash-mouth football with its defense and special teams. A deflected kick by Falcons special teams led to an Ashcroft field goal, and cut the Utes' lead to 26-16. A Utah fumble and up-the-gut running by Harridge and halfback Leotis Palmer led to an Anthony Butler touchdown, cutting the Ute's lead to 26-23.
The Falcons defense forced Utah to punt with two and a half minutes left in the game. After Palmer returned the ball to the Air Force 40 yard line, Air Force advanced the ball to the Utah 20. Once their, the Falcons coaching braintrust called the same play that Clark scored on earlier in the game. The play duplicated its previous success, this time with a 20-yard touchdown toss from Harridge to Clark with 17 seconds left in the game. Ashcroft's kick moved the score 30-26.
The Falcons defense batted away one last pass by Utah's quarterback to seal the win for Air Force.
The Falcons are now 4-0 and have led the Division I in rushing offense since the season started. Also, the Falcons moved up in the national rankings and are now 25th in the country on the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll and 27th on the Associated Press writers' poll.
The Falcons' next challenge comes Oct. 5, when Air Force hosts service academy rival Navy.