Video by CTV Sports
AIR FORCE ACADEMY – Three yards and a cloud of dust was all the Air Force football team needed.
Behind backup quarterback Nate Romine and a stable of backs, the Falcons (9-3, 5-3) upset No. 21 Colorado State 27-24 in front of 32,506 fans Friday night at Falcon Stadium just outside of Colorado Springs. Despite averaging just 3.8 yards per carry, the Falcons rushed 52 times, controlled time of possession and kept the CSU offense from ever finding a rhythm.
Following a failed fourth-down attempt by CSU with 38 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Romine hit wide receiver Garrett Brown for a 26-yard gain down to the Rams’ 26-yard line. A play later, Conant calmly stepped up and drilled the game-winning 39-yard field goal as time expired.
“As it turned out, they turned the field around on us and their guy drilled it,” CSU head coach Jim McElwain said. “The good thing is that guy is defending our country – he doesn’t choke under pressure.”
It looked as though the Rams would have a field day on offense early on, driving 75 yards in 9 plays and capping it off with a 7-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Garrett Grayson to Rashard Higgins to put CSU up 7-0 just 3:36 into the first quarter.
But from there CSU’s offense stalled, scoring only three points – on a Jared Roberts field goal — from the 11:24 mark of the first quarter until there was just over a minute remaining in the third quarter.
In between that time, Air Force’s ground-and-pound option attack led the Falcons to a 24-10 lead behind three rushing touchdowns from three different players and a 33-yard field goal from Conant.
“They’re the ones who beat us,” McElwain said after the game. “They took it to us, and good for Troy [Calhoun] and the Air Force Academy because they beat us pretty good.”
Trailing 24-10 late in the third quarter, the Rams’ offense seemed to finally find a spark when redshirt freshman receiver Xavier Williams took a short hook route from Grayson 76 yards for a touchdown to bring the Rams back within a score.
And after the CSU defense forced a three-and-out on the first drive of the fourth quarter, the Rams drove 83 yards in seven plays to tie the game on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Grayson to Higgins.
After another CSU defensive stop midway through the final frame, and driving with a chance to take the lead, Grayson was intercepted when the Falcons’ ball-hawking safety Weston Steelhammer stepped in front of CSU wideout Charles Lovett at the Air Force 35-yard line.
“I just thought I could get it in there before he jumped it and he made a hell of a play,” Grayson said. “We’ve seen him on film make great plays all year long so I’m not shocked that he was the one who made it.”
Despite Grayson’s interception however, CSU got yet another chance to take the lead as their defense stuffed the Falcons on three consecutive plays before forcing a punt. After driving to the Falcons’ 42-yard line, the Rams were stonewalled on consecutive runs on both third and fourth down.
“I’d call it again,” McElwain said of the decision to go for it on fourth down. “If you can’t get a yard, you probably don’t deserve to win the ball game anyways. We chose to go for it, they did a great job at the point of attack and we didn’t stop them on defense coming back.”
Colorado State (10-2, 6-2 Mountain West) now will have to wait until Dec. 7 to find out where it will play during bowl season. With a win Friday night and a Boise State loss to Utah State on Saturday, CSU would have hosted the Mountain West championship game on Dec. 6.
Now, they will return to Fort Collins, take a few days off from practice and try to regroup.
“We’ve lost before and we just have to overcome the adversity,” Higgins said. “We’ll gameplan, learn from it and go on from there.”
Collegian Sports Editor Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.
Photos by Eliott Foust