Death & Taxes Get a Partner

Three, the perfect number? Trios, triangles, and Stooges all revel in the notion of being part of a triad, a trinity, a troika or triumvirate. Three of a kind has won many a poker bluff. There are three primary colors in the spectrum. Three Rs from your childhood school days. Even the local hustler trying to separate you from your paycheck via his sleight of hand with a three card monte. There's just no escaping the number three and the Falcons certainly hope that's the case.

Chris Field, AFAFalcons Staff WriterJOIN THE CLUB. The assurance of death and the likelihood of having to pay higher taxes while awaiting same, is one of life's longstanding dichotomous frustrations. Yet, this two-pronged predicament lacks the lyrical flow of a threesome. But wait, aesthetic balance is on the way in the form of a most unlikely compatriot, a college football team. As surely as you'll be unable to read your own obituary once you've cashed in your chips and an ever ascending tax frenzy will feast on your finances, you can depend on the San Diego State Aztecs to underachieve.

SDS is sending out an SOS these days in what has been a futile attempt to gain a victory over the past six weeks. Embattled coach Tom Craft's team was picked in MWC preseason polls to finish in second place during the 2004 season. The Aztecs will enter their game against Air Force this Saturday as the only team in the conference without a win in MWC play.

Since beginning the season with an impressive performance in Ann Arbor, which nearly produced an upset of the Michigan Wolverines, Craft's crew has won one game and is currently in the throes of a six game losing skid. In its past two games--a loss at home versus Utah and a similar result in Provo against BYU--the Aztecs' "Dark Side Defense" has surrendered exactly 100 points.

The Aztecs have a sordid history of uninspired performances late in the season, especially when playing outside San Diego, when neither a conference title nor a bowl berth is within their grasp. When San Diego State travels to the academy this weekend it will be making a second consecutive long road trip in as many weeks fully aware that its season is beyond rescue.

In recent years the series between the Falcons and Aztecs has produced lopsided final scores. The winning team in three (there's that number again) of the past four meetings has prevailed by a minimum of 21 points, or three TDs if you will, with only the Aztecs', 38-34, upset of AFA two years ago, breaking that run. Then as now, Air Force will enter the game as a favorite. The Falcons were a 17 point pick two years ago, but a five and a half point favorite this time.

REVIVED. In losing to Wyoming on Halloween Weekend, Air Force dropped its fourth game in five contests and all but saw its hopes for a winning season and a bowl berth extinguished. QB Adam Fitch's performance in relief of Shaun Carney during the fourth quarter of the game in Wyoming was impressive enough (three TD drives in less than 13 minutes) to earn him the starter's role versus arch-rival Army this past weekend. Though the Falcons' option attack stumbled early in the game versus the Black Knights, Fitch rallied the offense to three TDs before halftime, meaning that in less than 45 minutes as the team's QB this season, he had led the team on six TD drives.

The junior from Gillette, Wyoming threw a forty-five yard TD pass to WR Jason Brown against the Cowboys and, after missing his first attempt against Army, finished the game by completing his final seven passes of the day. He's 14 of 19 with 1 TD pass and on interceptions in AFA's last two games. If Fitch continues that level of proficiency against SDS and Colorado State, it may provide the Falcons' offense with just enough variety and efficiency to keep opposing defenses off balance.

Fitch showed that the devastating Achilles' tendon injury he suffered in spring practice has healed to the point of enabling him to play a full game--as he did at West Point--rather than merely in spots. In gaining 112 yards on the ground he became the first AFA player to run for more than 100 yards against a division 1-A opponent this season. Evasiveness may once again be part and parcel of the arsenal of the AFA QB spot.

Of greater importance than his running prowess, is the effect the team's victory over Army may now supply the Falcons' enthusiasm as they endeavor to finish the regular season by beating MWC foes SDS and CSU to fashion a three game winning streak. Whether or not a 6-5 record would be enough to capture the attention of a bowl committee and a bid to the postseason is a can of worms to be opened another day.

WELCOME TURN OF EVENTS. AFA will neither win its first MWC title nor reclaim possession of the CIC trophy this fall, but the Falcons' timely win over Army, sustains its flickering hope of gaining entry to the postseason for the second time in three years. Should Air Force defeat SDS and CSU to finish the regular season, the Falcons would remove the albatross of recent, late season disasters from its shoulders. The 2001, 2002 and 2003 campaigns saw AFA stumble to 2-5 records over the course of the final seven contests it played in those years.

In defeating the Aztecs and Rams, Air Force would finish the schedule with a three game streak, compile four wins over its final seven contests, post a winning record (4-3) in MWC play for just the third time in six years and gain a measure of revenge for this year's senior class, which is currently a collective 1-5 versus this year's two, final opponents.

AFA's FB game, dormant for several weeks, resurfaced against Army with Dan Shaffer, Adam Cole and Jacobe Kendrick carrying the ball 14 times for 95 yards, a marked improvement over the 17 yards from the FB the Falcons posted against Wyoming.

Senior HBs Darnell Stephens (11-50-2TDs) and Anthony Butler (10-66) continued their superior efforts this year in producing 116 of the team's 345 yards on the ground. It was AFA's best rushing effort of the season against a division 1-A opponent and that accomplishment should inspire the offense to continue its improved play of the past five quarters.

After the Falcons' defense held Army on a fourth down situation on the Black Knights' first possession of the second half, Fitch led the offense on a seventy-four yard scoring drive. That may not seem noteworthy, but the touchdown represented the first third quarter points registered by Air Force in five games.

The AFA defense, overworked and ineffective for too much of the season, shut out Army throughout the second half--the first time the Falcons have held an opponent scoreless in a half since blanking Army in the first half last year. One week earlier the Falcons' defense played heroically against Wyoming in the first quarter by limiting the 'Pokes to five points. Bolstered by its stellar performance in the third and fourth quarters against Army and the prospect of facing an Aztecs' team that has lost six straight games, Richard Bell's boys may be turning from a creeping liability into a distinct asset.

Fisher DeBerry's team should be further invigorated by the opportunity to play two MWC teams that have struggled all year and for whom losing records and staying home for the holidays already are foregone conclusions.

ODDS AND ENDS. Now that Fitch's play seems to have earned him the starter's spot at QB for the next two games, it's possible that a player other than a quarterback may end the season as the Falcons' leading rusher. Carney leads the team with 447 yards while Shaffer is a mere 36 yards behind that total with 411. It's possible that big days by either Stephens, with 380 yards, or Butler with 352, could vault either of them to the top of the rushing list.

Stephens (1466) and Butler (1464) rank 20th and 21st on the academy's all-time rushing list. By gaining a handful of yards against the Aztecs on Saturday, both will surpass the career rushing total of former teammate Leotis Palmer (1470) as well as Jake Campbell (1478). Mike Thiessen's 1534 yards is the next assailable goal after that.

Tom Craft is heading to the end of his third year as the Aztecs' coach after leaving his post at Palomar Junior College. His 12-22 record entering the game against Air Force places him in danger of being fired at the end of the season. SDS sports an 8-13 overall record and is 3-9 in MWC play since the start of the 2003 season. SDS was 4-9 in Craft's first season before improving to 6-6 in 2003.
 


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