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Air Force Falcons Beat BYU (I had to do this for DeeDee and Rob)

September 13, 2010 by  
Filed under Ships Library

Air Force defenders cause Brigham Young quarterback Riley Nelson to fumble during first half action of an NCAA college football game at the Air Force Academy on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010.  The game was BYU's last game against Air Force as a member of the Mountain West Conference.

Air Force defenders cause Brigham Young quarterback Riley Nelson to fumble during first half.

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Troy Calhoun had never beaten Brigham Young University as a player, assistant or head coach at Air Force.

With one last attempt before BYU bolts from the Mountain West after this season, Calhoun pulled out all the stops, going for it late in the third quarter on fourth down of a close game, utilizing little-known players and calling gadget plays.

Finally, Calhoun the coach had that elusive victory over BYU that Calhoun the player or assistant could never achieve.

Mikel Hunter scored twice and the Falcons’ defense forced three turnovers, helping Air Force snap a six-game slide against BYU with a 35-14 win Saturday.

“You can add this to the stepping stones for Coach Calhoun,” quarterback Tim Jefferson said.

For all the Falcons, for that matter.

They played with a sense of urgency with BYU set to leave and become an independent.

With no future dates between the two on the docket, the Falcons didn’t want this losing streak looming indefinitely.

“A nice relief off of our shoulders,” Jefferson said.

This series had been quite one-sided of late, with the Cougars winning by an average of 19 points since 2004. But the Falcons (2-0, 1-0 MWC) turned the tables, taking the lead just before halftime and outscoring BYU 14-0 in the second half.

Air Force entered the game with the nation’s top rushing offense and had its option attack cranked up against the Cougars (1-1, 0-1), rushing for 409 yards. Asher Clark led the way with 121 yards.

Hunter wasn’t used all that often, touching the ball just three times. But the sophomore who’s not exactly a known presence still had a big day for the Falcons, catching a 37-yard touchdown pass from Jefferson and scoring on a 33-yard reverse.

He’s become the X-factor in the offense, called upon to produce big plays in big situations.

“I guess I’m turning into that,” Hunter said. “They put me in when they need me, and I try to respond whenever I can.”

Air Force standout cornerback Reggie Rembert returned to the field a week after being carted off with a neck injury, gaining medical clearance hours before kickoff.

This is one game the senior didn’t want to miss.

“I don’t like to be out, so I was begging the trainers to do whatever they could do to get me right,” said Rembert, who thwarted one BYU drive by picking off a pass in the second quarter. “I figured my team needed me, and I wanted to be out there for them.”

Calhoun had so much confidence in the defense that he elected to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the BYU 46 with Air Force clinging to a 21-14 lead late in the third quarter.

Jon Warzeka picked an opportune time to break off a career-long run, racing 46 yards for a touchdown and all but putting the win away.

Asked if there was any hesitation taking a risk at that point, Calhoun just shook his head no.

“Our defense was absolutely special today,” said Calhoun, whose defensive unit has yet to give up a point in the second half this season. “After the initial drive, we probably played as well defensively against Brigham Young as we have maybe ever.”

The defense also forced two fumbles, including one when tailback JJ Di Luigi was stripped from behind by safety Jon Davis near the goal line after a 43-yard run. The football rolled into the end zone, where Falcons linebacker Patrick Hennessey pounced on it for a touchback.

“I was impressed with their defense,” Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “They played well, they had a good plan and they executed soundly.”

Mendenhall stayed true to his word, alternating quarterbacks Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps in the first half. But that changed after halftime as Mendenhall turned to Nelson with the game close.

Nelson finished with 73 yards passing and had another 95 yards rushing, including a 4-yard scoring run. But he also had a costly fumble, leading to Hunter’s touchdown run just before halftime that gave the Falcons a 21-14 lead.

Heaps, the highly heralded freshman, threw for just 15 yards and was intercepted by Rembert.

“They played very hard in the second half, with a lot of fire, and there were certain things we couldn’t seem to overcome,” Nelson said. “I’m disappointed that I couldn’t lead my team a little better.”

Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson watched the game between these two adversaries from the press box. Although it could be challenging for Air Force and BYU to work out future games — the Falcons already play Navy and Army in nonconference games — Thompson wouldn’t mind seeing it happen.

So might a sellout crowd, Air Force’s first at Falcon Stadium since 2006.

“This is a very good rivalry,” Thompson said. “If they are able to continue the series, it’ll be fun.”

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