The Air Force Falcons bring their 2003 regular football season--and perhaps their entire season--to a close this weekend when they play the San Diego State Aztecs. Fisher DeBerry's team is traversing a slippery slope which has seen the squad drop four of its past six games. It's a late season scenario which is becoming alarmingly, too familiar.
ENTITIES. Two of life's competing forces are optimism and pessimism.
Some people feel there is no more constructive energy than theF
emboldening confidence emanating from optimism, nor any more destructive
force than the negativity oozing from pessimism. Others feel that optimism turns
a blind eye to reality, while pessimism fails to give credible weight to
possibility. As individual AFA fans make their lasting assessments by which they
will remember this season's team, they will be in position to decide whether
optimism or pessimism will shape and shade, forge and found their thinking.
There are events from this season on which the pessimist will dwell, just as
there are hopeful and heartening episodes toward which the optimist will be
Bearing all this in mind, and depending on
your point of view, here then are some highlights/lowlights which may assist you
in reaching any conclusion you may make regarding the 2003 Falcons' team.
optimist will say: by defeating SDS this weekend the Falcons will compile an 8-4
record on the regular season, the tenth consecutive season in which AFA has
finished at or above .500. A victory over the Aztecs would mean DeBerry has
authored 17 winning seasons, and another in which his team went .500, while
having only two losing seasons after two full decades as the team's head coach.
The pessimist will say: A loss this weekend
will consign the Falcons to a third straight season in which the team compiled a
2-5 record over the course of the final seven games of play. The record would
show that during three consecutive late season swoons the Falcons' combined
record was 6-15(.285). In posting that meager win total the AFA Falcons had gone
3-0 against Army, 2-1 versus UNLV while going
The optimist: By beating SDS this week the
Falcons will raise their composite MWC record to 18-17--fifth best among MWC
teams since the inception of the conference--and will have winning records
against BYU, UNLV, Utah, SDS and Wyoming over the first five years of MWC play.
Only CSU (4-1) and UNM (4-1) will have winning marks against the Falcons in MWC
The pessimist: A loss to SDS will drop
AFA's overall record in their three late season slides to 6-15; 2-9 on the road;
4-5 at home; 0-1 at neutral sites; 2-4 in home conference games; 1-7 in road
conference games and 3-11 in overall conference games during the slide. A loss
will further demonstrate that whether at home or on the road late in the season
Air Force cannot and does not win.
The optimist: The game against the Aztecs
gives the offense one more chance to unleash a fury which hasn't yet erupted
this season. After being held to twelve points and 158 yards rushing, Chance Harridge, the HBs and the rediscovered Adam Strecker at tight end are primed to
finish the regular season on a high note in an attempt to earn a bowl bid.
Harridge became only the third QB in AFA history to surpass the 2,000 yard mark
in career passing and rushing when he threw for 115 yards against the Lobos this
The pessimist: The game versus SDS is the
final stop for the Falcons before they go home for the holidays. The offense
hasn't scored forty points in regulation against a division 1-A team. To project
that the Falcons will do so against a team which has played solid defense all
season is ill-advised. In fact, this will be the first season since 1999 when
Fisher's team hasn't scored forty points at least once during the season against
a division 1-A team. This year's offense was a bomb which ticked, but never
The optimist: The UNM game was the first
game all season in which there was an abject failure on the part of the HBs to
be productive running the ball on the perimeter of an opposing defense. Anthony Butler, Darnell Stephens, Matt Ward and Joe Schieffer combined for only 15
yards. That won't happen again.
The pessimist: Okay, the HBs may well
bounce back and be productive against SDS. The fullback game has been next to
nonexistent for most of this fall. What's happened to what was once the bedrock
of AFA's ground based option attack--the fullback position? The same offensive
line which blocks for the HBs is blocking for the FBs. One group has done its
job the other clearly has not.
The optimist: A victory on the road against
San Diego State this Saturday will even AFA's record for November at 2-2. It
will further enhance the Falcons' appeal as a team worthy of a bowl bid,
especially if some conference cannot provide teams for all the bowls with which
it has affiliations. That scenario hit home for the MWC last year with the
The pessimist: A loss against SDS will drop
the Falcons' aggregate record for the month of November over the past three
seasons to 5-6. Coach DeBerry was quoted in Colorado and New Mexico newspapers
last week before the UNM game saying, "It's not so much where you start the
season, but where you end up." Hard to argue with you coach....and where
this team has ended the past three seasons, due to faltering finishes, is on the
The optimist: Under the leadership of
Chance Harridge this offense is capable of executing well-crafted, touchdown
drives at any point in a game. Not only that, but with Lynell Hamilton--the
Aztecs' outstanding freshman halfback out for the year with a broken leg--the
Aztecs are vulnerable to a team with as versatile an offense as the Falcons
The pessimist: The last time the Falcons
faced a team without a key running back was earlier this month when Utah came
calling. Brandon Warfield missed that game and coach Urban Meyer put Ben Moa--a
tight end for goodness sakes!!--in the backfield and he scored three TDs for the
Utes. Yeah boy, the Falcons really ate up the Utes in Warfield's absence.
The optimist: Tackle Blane Neufeld missed
the New Mexico game because of the flu, but he'll be back in the lineup for the
San Diego State game. Air Force lost the home finale to the Aztecs last year and
is intent on repaying SDS for that. WRs Kassim Osgood and J. R. Tolver who
combined for 25 receptions and 249 yards are long gone. The defense this year
has been solid and kept the Falcons in every game. CSU is the only team to have
scored as many as 30 points in regulation against AFA this year. That kind of
performance gives AFA an opportunity to win every week.
The pessimist: It's a stroke of luck for
Fisher's team that Hamilton won't play for the Aztecs. He'd eat this defense
alive. Look at the four losses Air Force has suffered this season. Navy's Kyle
Eckel ran for 176 yards and 1 TD. CSU's Bradlee Van Pelt ran for 125 yards and 2
TDs. Last week DonTrell Moore toyed with the defense and ran for 188 yards and 2
The optimist: The defense this year has
seen the emergence of a solid hitter in Dennis Poland, at one Falcon Back spot,
around whom the secondary can be built for the next two seasons. He and Nate Allen have done outstanding jobs this season and will continue to anchor the
secondary in 2004. LB John Rudzinski is as
tenacious a player on the inside as you'll find in the MWC. Linemen Russ
Mitscherling and Ryan Carter have played well and extensively throughout the
season. Falcon Back John Taibi struggled with a groin injury for several weeks,
finally seems to be recovered and has the size, speed, strength and agility to
be a solid player on defense next year.
The pessimist: This year's team will
graduate eight defensive starters. As a sophomore, Poland has the right to
withdraw from the academy at any point before the start of his junior year.
Recent off-seasons for the AFA football team haven't necessarily been the
smoothest periods of transition. The mention of the names Mark Marsh and Anthony Schlegel should establish that point with painful clarity. The current
scuttlebutt regarding a possible reclassification of AFA athletic teams down
from their current division 1 status may hasten departures of underclassmen
rather than assure their continuing enrollment.
The optimist: The Falcons have already had
one game this year in which they rushed for in excess of 400 yards (441 versus
Wyoming). If AFA can run for 424 net yards against the Aztecs this week they'll
wind up averaging exactly 300 yards a game for the twelve game season. Harridge,
Stephens, Butler, Schieffer, Ward, Adam Cole, Dan Shaffer and Steve Massie give
the ground attack more than enough energy and ability to accomplish that feat.
The offensive line has played well from start to finish this year.
The pessimist: Good luck to the AFA ground
game because Aztecs may be extinct, but when it comes to defending the run they
are very much alive and well. SDS is allowing less than 125 yards a game on the
ground this year. UNM had one of the best run defenses in the nation and pulled
the plug on the Falcons' rushing attack last Saturday. Confidence may be in
short supply for AFA's offense right now. Talk about a bleak picture.
The optimist: A bleak picture you say? Let me
recall a bleak picture if I may. At the end of the 2001 season the entire
offensive line: Ben Miller, Brian Strock, Matt Mai (and Paul Cancino at center),
Matt Joseph, Joe Pugh and Kevin Runyon all graduated. Not only that, but so did
starting FB James Burns and QB Keith Boyea. The 2002 offense featured an
entirely new line, QB and FB. Adam Strecker, Blane Neufeld, Brett Huyser, Wayne Southam (and John Peel at center), Jesse Underbakke and Brett Waller were up
front with Chance Harridge at QB and Leotis Palmer leading the way at halfback.
That crew was accomplished to such an extent that it won the division 1-A
There was absolutely no rational cause for
optimism at the outset of the 2002 season, but the team displayed its
determination and character, and by the campaign's end won a rushing title. This
SDS defense can't be that impenetrable because AFA sliced through it for 413
yards last season. AFA fans will be chagrined
by the graduation of this offensive line, but aware that Fisher's teams have
always found ways to run the ball effectively.
IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS. As
always, the choice of assessing a team's performance in a given season is
personal and yours alone to make. You can bemoan losses to Navy and Utah
thinking they are ones which somehow "got away." That would be to
denigrate the efforts of two teams having exceptional years, but it's your right
to do so. You can applaud the efforts of Chance Harridge--who will end his
playing career at AFA as the program's fourth all-time leading rusher--or you
can bemoan his inability to become a gifted downfield passer.
A victory against San Diego State will
yield the Falcons their sixteenth win in their past 25 contests and a 64%
winning mark over the 2002 & 2003 seasons. Even a loss would keep the
Falcons' two year record at 15-10 and give them a 60% winning ledger over the
past two seasons. Before being unjustifiably harsh in your evaluation of the
this year's AFA team bear in mind that Alabama, BYU, Notre Dame, Penn State,
Stanford, Syracuse, Texas A & M, and Washington--all schools with storied
football histories--are among the division 1-A programs which will finish with fewer
wins than Air Force this fall.