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Air Force escapes thriller in Nevada with last-second field goal

An Air Force mascot at the Army-Air Force football game at the U.S. Military Academy's Michie Stadium in West Point, N.Y., Nov. 5, 2016.

JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

By BRENT BRIGGEMAN | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) | Published: October 21, 2017

RENO, Nev. (Tribune News Service) — Air Force ran and ran and ran. But it took a field goal as time expired to finally kick Nevada into the rear-view mirror.

The Falcons rushed for a season-high 550 yards and finally won it with a 30-yard Luke Strebel field goal with no time on the clock to prevail 45-42 on Friday night.

“It’s routine,” Strebel said. “Kind of.

“I hit the ball and saw it was going to go in. It’s like a nice fairway drive where you just reach down and pick up the tee.”

The Falcons won it on Strebel’s foot, but it was mostly an effort built upon the legs of a slew of runners who set a team record with 91 carries. Senior tailback Tim McVeey (18 carries for 139 yards), junior slot receiver Ronald Cleveland (eight for 118) and sophomore fullback Taven Birdow (20 for 100) gave the Falcons their first trio of 100-yard rushers for only the second time in program history. Quarterback Arion Worthman, with 20 carries for 92 yards and two touchdowns, nearly gave a fourth.

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The Falcons tied a program mark by running 98 total offensive plays. That gave them a 41:20 to 18:40 edge in time of possession.

“It was about time we had a breakthrough like this,” said Worthman, who directed an offense that put up 591 yards. “We were about due.”

All of that was only barely enough in a contest that was tight throughout. The Falcons trailed 7-0, 14-7 and 20-14 before outscoring the Wolf Pack 21-6 in the second quarter. They never trailed again, though Nevada forced ties at 28, 35 and 42.

The Wolf Pack didn’t run nearly as many plays as Air Force (98 to 55), but they averaged 7.7 yards on those snaps and scored three touchdowns through the air.

“We knew they were a very explosive offense and tried to minimize that as best we could,” Air Force cornerback Marquis Griffin said. “Hats off to them. Their boys came to play, for sure.”

Air Force’s defense, aided by plenty of rest time while the offense churned out yards, gave up 201 yards in the first quarter and 223 the rest of the way.

The Falcons helped themselves in the first half in several ways.

They recovered three of their own fumbles, the significance of which was magnified in the second half when Nevada showed what it could do with turnovers – turning two Falcons miscues into touchdowns.

Air Force (3-4, 2-2 Mountain West) also surprised the Wolf Pack with an onside kick in the second quarter that Zane Lewis recovered. The onside kick came immediately after the Falcons had marched 75 yards in 7 minutes. Nevada’s exhausted defense had no chance as the Falcons then quickly went 54 yards in three plays to build a 28-20 lead late in the second quarter.

Also, the Falcons challenged a spot when Nevada had apparently picked up a first down on its second drive. The review put the Wolf Pack (1-7, 1-3) in a 4th-and-1 situation and they were flagged for a chop block when running for what would have been a first down. After the penalty yardage was assessed, they punted, marking the only time Air Force kept them out of the end zone on their first three possessions.

Those little things added up, and so did the rushing yards throughout.

The Falcons set a school record with 32 rushing first downs. The 36 total first downs was fourth-most in program history. One drive alone chewed up 9 minutes, 47 seconds and encompassed 20 plays.

Each time the chains moved, Nevada's offense stayed on the sidelines. That's no way to catch a team on the run.

“We found a way,” coach Troy Calhoun said.

©2017 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
Visit The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) at www.gazette.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Falcons kicker Luke Strebel punts in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas, Dec. 29, 2015.
MIKE KAPLAN/U.S. AIR FORCE

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