Air Force seals win with a pass breakup on final play to beat Utah State, 35-28
Colorado Springs, Colorado ( November 14) – The vaunted Air Force ground attack came up with an unexpected air attack to stay a step ahead of the Utah State passing attack for a well-played 35-28 victory. The USAFA’s win was not assured until Safety Weston Steelhammer broke up Kent Myer’s 18-yard pass attempt into the end zone on fourth down with 36 seconds left to secure the win over its Mountain West division foe, Utah State. For CFF.com, this was our 499th college football game since 1979 – first ever at the Air Force Academy and last of the five locations where we’ve attended a game among the five federally funded US military academies. We added Falcon Stadium to the other stadiums including Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and The Merchant Marine Academy. It was also the second very competitive football game we attended within 24 hours in the great state of Colorado.
On a beautiful, bright, sunny, clear day with a noon kickoff, the Air Force Falcons started the game scoring with their first drive of 79 yards polished off with a 31-yard touchdown run by FB D.J. Johnson (13 rushes, 79 yards, 1 TD) for an early 7-0 lead. Utah State kept up with the Falcons on its next possession as Myers lofted a high 40-yard pass to WR Hunter Sharp to tie it up. A timely end around play off the triple option and a 20-yard pass to Garrett Brown put Air Force at the two from where Jacobi Owens scored for another Air Force lead. Not to be outdone, the Aggies scored with their same combination as the first when Sharp caught a 48-yard pass carrying a defender on his back for the last five yards into the end zone. The quarter ended with the most scores seen by CFF.com that early in a game this season to tie it at 14-all.
Both defenses made adjustments that paid off in the second period until late in the frame. Starting from the 15, the Cadets in blue drove the length of the field and QB Karson Roberts took in over on the right side for a six-yard run with 40 seconds left, and that’s how the first half ended, 21-14, in favor of the home team.
Like Army and Navy, Air Force has its unique traditions. It started before the game with some aerial acrobatics in a glider piloted by a Cadet with streams of white smoke trailing from its wing tips. Like Navy and unlike Army, the entire Wing of the Academy marched on to the field before the game – much more fitting than Army marching only six companies on to the Michie Stadium surface when they play games at home. The full command is much more inspiring in sight and sound and it displays unity between the team and the other Cadets. Air Force’s parachute team, The Wings of Blue, sky dives down to deliver the game ball and features appropriate flags. Included on this day was the flag of France to show solidarity and mourning for the fiendish attacks in Paris by terrorist the night before. Right before kickoff, a single B52 Bomber flew over Falcon Stadium roaring by with awesome power. At halftime, an actual Air Force falcon mascot swooped down from the press box to catch bait swung from a tether by a Cadet falconer standing near midfield. After the show on this day, an American bald-headed eagle soared over the stadium. An Air Force fan and season ticket holder sitting behind me at our 50-yard line seats (got mine from Stubhub) saw me watching it through my binoculars and wondered aloud if it showed up to eat the Falcon. I think the Falcon is much quicker in the 40. In the first half, both teams had eaten up a lot of yardage already although through totally different attacks. Air Force gained 212 of 309 yards via the running game – pretty typical – while the Aggies generated 197 of 209 through the air lanes. Would both teams maintain their game plans through the second half?
The Falcons started the second half from the 25 following a touchback. After gaining a yard, they pulled off the surprise. Roberts (11 of 17 passing for 271 yards, 1 TD) took a page from the USU play book and lofted a high pass to 6’4” WR Jalen Robinette who leaped high in the air at midfield with a defender on his back and left him on the ground for a 74-yard catch and run TD and a sudden, shocking two score lead of 28-14. About ten minutes later in the period, the Aggies got back on the scoreboard through the air from Myers to Sharp (13 catches for 193 yards, 3 TDs) for their third scoring connection of the game. Like the first quarter, both teams scored two TDs before the period ended. Air Force drove 75 yards to retain a 14-point edge on Owens’ scoring run of three yards with 1:28 remaining. Myers connected for a 44-yard TD pass to a different WR, Devante Robinson, for his only reception of the game to settle the score at 35-28 as the third period came to an end.
Air Force started again after another touchback and went for a TD on fourth and goal where the Aggies stopped Owens at the ten, but they only got out to the 27 before punting the ball back. The Aggie D held Air Force to punt from their 39, but a roughing the punter call allowed Air Force to maintain possession and eat up more clock as time was running down. Utah State got the ball back at their 20 with 2:45 left in the game. On a fourth and two, Myers connected with his go-to guy Sharp who snared it for a first down at the Falcon 45 with 1:44 left. A 21-yard run by Myers and a 13-yard completion to Wyatt Houston moved the Aggies to the 11 for a first down. USU lost seven yards on a sack by DE Alex Hansen. Following an incompletion, Utah State went for the score with a fourth and 17 from the 18. Myers fired the ball to his receiver in the end zone and Steelhammer, who picked off an INT earlier, knocked it down to settle the final score for the birds’ victory in an exciting, well-played game right down to the finish. In the end, the Falcons tallied 580 total yards, 309 on the ground and unexpectedly 271 through the air. The Aggies rushed for 75 yards and threw for 364 for a total of 439 yards. They overwhelmingly controlled time of possession – 37:08 to 22:52. The Air Force scores came on some quick, long strikes..
State (5-5, 4-2) returns home to Ogden next week to host MWC opponent Nevada, and then it hosts now non-conference in-state rival BYU the following week. They have to win while Air Force has to knock off Boise and then lose to New Mexico to still have a shot at the division title. Air Force (7-3, 5-1) flies to Boise State this Friday with the Mountain Davison title up for grabs as the two teams are currently tied for first. Boises’s loss came at the hands of Utah State, 52-26. Most likely the winner will go on to play the West Division champion on December 5. San Diego State (7-3, 6-0) leads that division now with two games remaining. This was the last home game for the Falcons this season (winners of their last 12 home games). If they defeat Boise which they did last season at home, New Mexico stands in their way as their final conference foe for this season. As for CFF.com, you close followers already know that we head to West Point to celebrate our 500th college football game since we started all this back in September of 1979. With two full busloads of football friends and a few carloads, we will see Army (2-8) host Rutgers (3-7). Both teams have struggled this season to say the least which we hope bodes well for another competitive game to add what’s already been a fantastic 2015 500th game anniversary season. Go Knights (Scarlet or black, we don’t care. We’re going to win the tailgate)!
Extra points: Check back with us tomorrow.