On Saturday night, in front of a national television audience, BYU's hopes of adding further injury to the insult they inflicted upon AFA in Provo last October were dashed by the Falcons. Air Force delivered the unmistakably clear fiat of: "not here, not now, not in our house" to its conference foe. While BYU continues to enjoy a historic domination of the series by virtue of its 18-5 record against AFA, a growing recognition must be given to the continuing emergence of the dominance of the home team in this series. Last night's game marked the fifth consecutive regular season victory in this series by the home team. AFA is 3-2 in those five games. In the last six overall meetings of the two teams AFA holds a 4-2 record. The tide in this series continued to turn in AFA's favor last night.
STOP US IF YOU CAN. Air Force made little effort to disguise its game plan when the Falcons took the ball for their initial possession of the night. A dozen rushing attempts and eighty yards later AFA had found the end zone to establish a lead it would never relinquish. Leotis Palmer's two carries for thirty yards led the way and Chance Harridge carried the ball the final yard of the drive for the first of his four TDs on the evening. Air Force said it was going to run the ball until BYU showed it could prevent the Falcons from so doing. The Cougars never stopped AFA's ground game and the Falcons grounded the Cougars throughout the game.
Even though Harridge completed just four passes on the night--only three of which resulted in gains for the Falcons--it simply didn't matter. AFA's furious ground assault, led by a devastatingly effective surge courtesy of the offensive line, transfixed BYU's defense rendering it incapacitated. Air Force averaged 4.88 yards a clip for its 79 rushing attempts on the night. BYU never mounted viable resistance to the immovable force presented by the AFA offensive line. AFA ran where and when it so desired.
AFA completed the first half of the regular season with a crowning addition to its impressive list of point producing explosions. Against Northwestern the Falcons scored the game's first forty-nine points. In Salt Lake City, the team scored the game's final twenty-four points to secure victory. Last weekend Air Force ran off the game's final forty-seven points while cruising to a win over Navy. With a national TV audience watching as the Falcons became one of only ten teams to remain undefeated in division 1-A football, Air Force scored forty-five consecutive points after falling behind by a field goal against BYU.
Air Force completed the first six games on its schedule having allowed a total of sixteen points in the second half of its three games in Falcon Stadium. Armed with such data, teams are well advised to construct game plans which enable them to score early when visiting the AFA because second half comebacks don't seem to be part of the Falcons' plans for being hospitable hosts. The signs surrounding this season's team are abundantly clear: this year's defense is vastly superior to last year's inferior product and this fall's offense is led by a maturing QB who gives evidence of taking his place along side the best ever to run the AFA option attack.
IT MAKES NO DIFFERENCE. An examination of this year's defense reveals a group of nearly interchangeable personnel capable of containing an opposing team. Frequent starters DE Monty Coleman and NG Nick Taylor didn't play last night and AFA held BYU to ten points. Eric Thompson, Charles Bueker and John Hicks have played superbly when summoned into the lineup. Offensive starters C Wayne Southam and HB Anthony Butler missed the game. C3C John Peel played most of last night's game at the center spot and drew rave reviews from Fisher in his post game show. The backs ran for 386 yards and the offensive line was the dominant unit on the field from first play to last.
HBs Leotis Palmer, Darnell Stephens and Matt Ward combined to go
20/146/1TD on the night. If opponents are looking for the same old QB and FB slashes and dashes between the tackles they will be sadly surprised in trying to defend this edition of the AFA option. The Falcons have an abundance of speed to attack defenses at the perimeter, and bear in mind that Butler has a grand total of 17 carries this season. Unforeseen depth on offense and defense is a primary factor in the Falcons' exceptional performance through the first half of the season.
BYU entered the game with a well documented history of having been able to throw the ball at will against AFA defenses. The Cougars threw for 325 yards in the game. However, none of the yardage ever threatened to help the team establish any measure of consistency on offense. BYU changed QBs in the game frequently and each shift produced the same result--undiminished pressure from the Falcons' defensive line resulting in an inconsequential offense on BYU's part. At one point in the game AFA led 14-3 and the BYU quarterback of the moment, Bret Engemann, was 2 for 7 in passing.
GAME BALL AWARDS. It was just about this time last year when AFA made trips to Provo and Albuquerque. The first stop saw the team torched for 63 points and the next saw them abused for 52 points. It was at this juncture the coaching staff realized sweeping changes would have to be instituted for this year if the Falcons' were going to recapture any hope of being a competitive team in division 1-A college football. Roster changes were made, a new alignment was installed, positions were eliminated while still others were created. Half a dozen games after the newly configured defense's debut Air Force finds itself with a unit that has limited opposing teams to 97 points, while on three occasions holding a team to less than ten points in a game. This year's the AFA Falcons have a defensive unit capable of keeping the team in a game as well as dominating a game by forcing turnovers and presenting its offensive counterpart with splendid field position. The architect of this seismic shift of fortune for the Falcons, defensive coordinator Richard Bell, is awarded a game ball in recognition of the stellar performance authored by the Falcons' defense against BYU.
There are times when it's a personal matter and this is one of them. Expending emotional energy and pouring out your life's blood for nearly twenty-three seasons in service to of one of the last bastions of bona fide student-athletes exacts a toll. Along the way there will be times when a coach can only absorb the brutal beatings meted out to him at the hands of vastly superior teams while trying to summon the courage to forge a path to a day when he can turn the tables. In the realm of coaching turnabout is indeed fair play. Air Force players and fans can recall, with all too painful clarity, the frequent drubbings at which they were uneasy attendees or participants. On Saturday night the shoe was placed squarely and snugly on the other foot. The willingness to accept singly the responsibility for failure and to share the credit for success are hallmarks of true humility. AFA's win over BYU was literally one for the ages. While the win was harvested by current day academy cadets its significance is no less meaningful for those who strived valiantly on the gridiron, but upon whom victory did not bestow its favor. For his tireless effort to sow seeds of encouragement in his players while never letting them relinquish dreams of future success to current hardship, Fisher DeBerry is awarded a game ball. The Falcons' ability to compete favorably on a recurring basis against some of the premier programs in division 1-A football bears witness to Fisher's indomitable optimism and willingness to persevere.