U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AFNS) --
A risky play-action pass on fourth-and-goal sealed a 23-6 Air Force victory over Army at the U.S. Military Academy Nov. 1, securing the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy and a possible bowl bid.
Air Force's game-clinching drive started early in the fourth quarter, with Falcons ahead 16-6. The Falcon defense held the Black Knights' explosive offense in check to that point, but Air Force coaches were not comfortable sitting on a 10-point lead, so the team came out gunning for another score.
"We knew it was a rivalry game and you're always going to get Army's best shot," said Falcons head coach Troy Calhoun. "Hats off to them, they played hard. We knew we were going to get their best game, so we prepared to get their best game and we handled it well."
Air Force's drive began at its own 21-yard-line, featuring a heavy dose of rushing and a crucial pass to wide receiver Jalen Robinette, to keep the sticks moving. Army bent but didn't break, and the drive boiled down to a first-and-goal situation for Air Force at Army's 3-yard line.
The Falcons rushed into the teeth of the Black Knight defense three times, gaining only one yard. Faced with a fourth-and-two and 7:05 still on the clock, the Falcons' offensive brain trust decided to go for it. Looking at 16-6 on the scoreboard, an Air Force field goal would leave Army still two touchdowns away from a win, but an Air Force touchdown would leave Army needing three scores.
Falcons quarterback Kale Pearson took the snap, faked a handoff and rolled right on the play-action-pass. He found tight end Garrett Griffin running in the flat and hit him for an easy touchdown.
"It was really good, old-fashioned football with two play-action passes in there," Calhoun said. "The other play action pass was to Robinette, who made a sensational dynamite catch, and then Pearson was able to finish it on fourth down to Griffin."
With Will Conant's extra point, Air Force pushed ahead, 23-6.
Army came back to sustain a long drive, until Falcons cornerback Justin Decoud forced a fumble that strong safety Weston Steelhammer recovered at Air Force's 43-yard line with 4:45 remaining.
With a 16-yard run by tailback Jacobi Owens and a 19-yard dash by fullback Shayne Davern, the Falcons punched ahead to Armys' 17-yard line and threatened to score again.
But, having forced Army to burn through its timeouts and killing the clock,the Falcons knelt twice to end the hard-fought game.
Air Force's win over Army combines with a previous win over Navy, giving the Falcons a clean sweep to earn the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy.
"It's huge for the seniors, how hard they worked in the offseason and how hard the team worked in the offseason," Calhoun said. "Looking at this time last year we were kind of down in the dumps, and we told ourselves in the offseason that we're going to work hard all offseason and it's going to pay off. It's pretty awesome to see that we put the formula in place and it's starting to pay off."
The trophy was created by service academy alumni in 1972, going to the winning academy with the best record in round-robin competition. Air Force has won the trophy 19 times, the most of any service academy.
"It means a lot," said Air Force linebacker Jordan Pierce. "This is one of our goals every season is to win this and for the first time in a couple years we finally did it. But, we're not focused on that right now. We're going to enjoy this for the next 24 hours but we have a game next week. So we'll brush it out of our memories real quick and we can wait until April to celebrate again."
The win over Army increases Air Force's record to 6-2, and Falcons are now one of five bowl-eligible Mountain West conference teams. The Mountain West has six bowl agreements: the Las Vegas Bowl, San Diego Bowl, Idaho Potato Bowl, New Mexico Bowl, New Orleans Bowl and the Hawaii Bowl, and secondary agreements with the Armed Forces and Cactus bowls. How this bowl picture shakes out will be determined over the rest of the season and the Falcons could face a rough road ahead with its final four games.
Air Force's next opponents are all-conference foes, starting with a Nov. 8 away game at UNLV (2-7). The Falcons return home Nov. 15 to face Nevada (6-3), hit the road to battle San Diego State (4-4), and close out at home against perennial rival Colorado State University (8-1).
Kickoff against UNLV is at 2 p.m. MT. Falcon football fans can follow the play-by-play action and www.goairforcefalcons.com