The graduating class of 2004 at the Air Force Academy finished the home portion of its football career with a, 31-3, pounding of Army. In the process the Falcons raised their record to 7-3 on the season in advance of a climactic two game road swing which will lower the curtain on the regular season and determine whether or not AFA will be a bowl participant or merely staying home for the holidays.
SHAKY START. AFA failed to convert on fourth down on its
opening drive of the game and had to settle for field goals rather than
touchdowns on its next two drives. Fisher DeBerry's team closed the first half
with a rare score from the fullback spot and then sprinted to the locker room
after place-kicker Joey Ashcroft banged home a field goal from fifty-nine yards
as time expired in the second quarter.
Chance Harridge was stopped short as Air Force attempted to convert a fourth and one situation on the opening series of
the game. Army took control of the ball, but Air Force was able to force the
Black Knights to punt after the visitors' first series.
Ashcroft, mired in an erratic campaign in
which he has hit on just 10 of 18 attempts after connecting on 16 of 18 attempts
last season, gave AFA a six point lead when he hit on kicks from 31 and 24
yards--the second of which came in the third minute of play in the second
The star of the first half, and the game,
was senior linebacker Marchello Graddy who recovered three fumbles
by the time the game was only midway through the second quarter. His third
recovery led to a drive in which another senior--Steve Massie--carried five
straight times. The last effort produced a 1 yard TD blast giving AFA its first
entry to the endzone on the day and its first score from the FB position since
the Wyoming game in September.
Army brought the nation's longest losing
streak--eleven games--into the contest and left Falcon Stadium saddled with a
twelve game losing streak and the knowledge that it has not won at the academy
since 1977, a skein of thirteen games on AFA's turf.
Interim coach John Mumford's team did
itself no favors in committing six fumbles and losing four of them. Senior DBs
Larry Duncan and Jeff Overstreet intercepted Zac Dahman twice as the Falcons'
defense produced a half dozen turnovers for their offensive counterparts.
While a solid hit by special teams' demon,
LB Kenny Smith, produced a fumble late in the game which resulted in a TD by HB
Matt Ward on the next play, several of Army's miscues on the day were as much a
product of bad hands as ferocious hits by AFA defenders. There are reasons why
Army is at, or near, the bottom of the NCAA charts where turnovers are concerned
and all of those traits were on display against the Falcons.
GAUDY SHOWCASE. The only
display more impressive than the exhibition of aerial hardware in the skies
above the stadium preceding the game, was the ground attack unveiled by the
Falcons throughout the afternoon. The Falcons' ground based option scheme gutted
Army's defense for 372 yards, 3 TDs and featured five different backs gaining
forty or more yards. C2C, Darnell Stephens contributed 52 yards and 1TD in
becoming the thirty-second player in AFA history to rush for more than 1000
yards in his career. Stephens became the second AFA halfback to reach the
landmark this season joining Anthony Butler.
AFA amassed 446 yards in total offense
while the Falcon defenders limited Army to 199 yards--the lowest total allowed
by AFA against a division 1-A opponent this season. The disparity in time of
possession--36 minutes to 24 minutes--was made more injurious by an Army team
which seemed unusually willing to give the ball to the home team, especially
whenever Graddy appeared on the scene.
The Falcons were in full control from start
to finish, even while waiting for the offense to overcome the momentary
annoyance of aborting finishing long drives with FGs in lieu of TDs in the
opening seventeen minutes of action.
DeBerry's team escaped any damage from the
four fumbles it committed. Even the eleven penalties totaling 94 yards couldn't
deter the Falcons from dismissing their military brethren. While Air Force was
able to overcome its inability to finish drives early in the game against Army
and still post a 28 point victory, such inefficiency will need to be eliminated
against New Mexico next week if the Falcons are going to author a win in
Albuquerque--a site of some recent disasters for AFA football teams.
GAME BALL AWARDS. Marchello
Graddy's first half performance
is the stuff which comes along once in a lifetime. Unquestionably, the senior
from Wrightsville, Georgia has been the best player on the team's defensive unit
in 2003 from day one. That he recovered Army fumbles on three straight
possessions before twenty-five minutes of action had elapsed, is proof that
Graddy isn't one to rest on past accomplishment, but rather is a player who
presses ahead in search of the next opportunity to help secure victory for his
Graddy continues to play in a manner worthy
of first-team, all-conference, postseason recognition. For his superb effort in
anchoring a defense which short-circuited every Army sortie and which set the
proper tone for the team in advance of its critical meeting with New Mexico,
Graddy is awarded a game ball.
The class of 2004 raised its collective
record to 30-17(.638) and with two games remaining in the regular season has the
opportunity to add even more luster to its athletic successes at the academy. In
recognition of its exemplary record on the field--which may still produce a ten
win season, a bowl berth and victory and an elusive first Mountain West
Conference championship--this year's seniors are awarded a game ball.