Falcons win in overtime
By John Van Winkle, Air Force Academy Public Affairs
/ Published September 09, 2002
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AFPN) -- A tipped pass in the end zone, trick plays and the nation's leading rushing attack sealed a 38-31 overtime win for the Falcons against a determined University of New Mexico team.
Air Force pulled out all the stops in Saturday's game, having lost to New Mexico's Lobos the past three years.
"We brought the kitchen sink today. We brought the house, " said head coach Fisher DeBerry. "I told the team to leave it all on the field today, and if you get too tired in the fourth quarter to get off they field, don't worry. We have carts to help you off the field."
The Falcons varied their running attack, by mixing their triple-option assault with more traditional formations that sent fullback Steve Massie up the middle 16 times for 55 yards.
"Against New Mexico, we had to pull out all the stops," said quarterback Chance Harridge. "And to rush as well as we did against a run-stop defense says a lot about our team."
The Falcons' 737 yards on the ground make them the nation's No. one rushing offense in Division 1A for the second straight week, after rushing for 261 yards against New Mexico, and racking up 476 yards against Northwestern University the week before.
Yet despite the Falcons' relentless ground assault and creative play-calling, poor tackling by their defense and a 220-yard performance by Lobo tailback Quincy Wright left the game a 31-31 tie at the end of regulation. So NCAA overtime rules gave each team one possession at the 25-yard line to decide the game.
Air Force got the ball first, and went back to what they do best -- running the ball down the opponent's throats. Harridge carried three times for 14 yards and Palmer moved the line of scrimmage ahead another seven yards, to set up first and goal at the 4-yard line. And in a departure from the standard Air Force triple-option running attack, Harridge then handed off to Massie.
"I just knew I had to get the ball across the goal line," said Massie. I followed [right guard] Jesse Underbakke and the rest of the offensive line. I didn't have a hard job, they did everything else." Massie scored to put the Falcons ahead 38-31, leaving New Mexico to match the score, or lose.
But to do so, the Lobos had to face the Falcons' defense at the end of the field where the 4,000 members of the Air Force Academy's cadet wing were seated.
"Our cadet wing was our 12th man today," said DeBerry. "They flat sure made it almost impossible to hear down there. That's why we chose that end of the field."
During New Mexico's overtime possession, the Lobos were able to crawl ahead to the Air Force 11, before the noise of the cadet wing led to a false start penalty. Pushed back to the 15 yard line, the Lobos had only one shot left to keep the game alive.
Lobos quarterback Casey Kelly took the snap and faded back to pass, but was plagued by zone coverage on his receivers and two blitzing linebackers.
"We brought Marchello [Graddy] and [Anthony] Schlegel on the blitz," said Falcon linebacker John Rudzinski. "Marchello got up in his face and forced the quarterback to throw an errant pass."
Kelly made that all-or-nothing toss to wide receiver Bryan Penley at the goal line. But the pass was tipped away by Falcon defensive back Joel Buelow, and Air Force had its first win over conference rival New Mexico in four years.
"When you get beat three times by a football team, it begins to hurt your pride a little bit," DeBerry said. "We spent a lot of time preparing for this football team, more than just the past week, I can assure you. Go back to last spring, summertime and preseason time. We've done a lot of research and preparation."
Now that preparation turns to their next game, which is Sept. 21 at the University of California-Berkeley. The UC-Berkeley Golden Bears finished last season with but a single win, but have rebounded this year to demolish Baylor 70-22 and topple New Mexico State University, 34-13.