The Falcons made judicious use of the passing game hitting on six of ten passes for 151 yards and two TDs as the team amassed 531 yards in total offense, a figure surpassed only by the 536 yards with which AFA scuttled Navy. In completing sixty percent of its passes for the day Air Force registered only its third game of the season in which it had completed at least fifty percent of its pass attempts in a game. When completing at least half their pass attempts this season Air Force has beaten Northwestern 52-3, Navy 48-7 and Army 49-30 while averaging just a shade less than fifty points a game.
A STRONG START. Leotis Palmer was the central figure in the game during the opening seventeen minutes of play as he had a hand in the game's first three touchdowns. After carrying the ball on two sweeps in the Falcons' first series, and following a short gain by FB Steve Massie, Palmer took a pitch from QB Chance Harridge and launched a strike down the middle of the field to a wide open HB Joe Schieffer, who made the reception in stride, and sped to the endzone untouched.
After the Falcons forced Army to punt, Palmer fielded Chris Castelli's kick, only to be stripped of the ball as he headed upfield. The miscue led to the Black Knights' first TD of the day. AFA assumed the lead for good on a late first quarter safety due to Army QB Reggie Nevels slipping in his own endzone. Early in the second quarter with Air Force facing a fourth and three from the Army twenty-seven yard line, Fisher DeBerry chose to try and convert for a first down. Harridge took the snap, sprinted down the right side of the offensive line, drew defenders to himself before firing a pitchout to Palmer. Leotis took the ball at the thirty yard line, hesitated just long enough to make Lucius Weaver miss a tackle, benefited from a devastating block delivered by Tom Heier--yet another AFA halfback--and then sprinted the last twenty yards into the endzone, untouched. Air Force led 16-7, was never seriously threatened afterwards and at one time increased its lead to 25 points.
BOMBS AWAY. Midway through the third quarter Army narrowed the score to 32-24. It was at this juncture that Harridge and tight end Adam Strecker combined on the play which secured the day for Air Force. On first down, fullback Tim Gehrsitz gained nine yards on a blast play up the middle. On second and one from the Army forty-nine yard line, Harridge took the snap from center, dropped into the pocket, lofted a pass to Strecker, who found himself a clear eight yards in back of the nearest Army defender. Strecker hauled in the aerial and loped a few strides into the endzone for the score which broke Army's will.
Both Palmer's TD pass to Schieffer and Harridge's strike to Strecker demonstrate that Air Force can pass effectively and productively when it can dictate the inclusion of the passing game into its game plan rather than being forced to do so when down and distance necessitate a pass be thrown. While the passing game produced big plays and an uncustomary landslide of points for Air Force, it was slashing runs by Palmer (8-66), Butler (7-84) and Stephens (8-75) which fueled the high performance Falcons' offense in this CIC showdown.
SOME SCREWS NEED TIGHTENING. There were three plays in this game on which Air Force committed errors leading directly to Army touchdowns. The first was Palmer's fumble while returning a punt. The second occurred on a play in the final minute of the first half. On a fourth down play, Army launched a long pass to a WR being covered by Jeff Overstreet.
Overstreet made an ill-advised attempt to intercept the ball which would have resulted in AFA taking possession inside its own five yard line. Batting the ball to the turf would have given the Falcons possession of the ball in a far more advantageous field position. Overstreet wrestled with the Army receiver, lost the battle for the ball and the Black Knights recorded a first down on the AFA two yard line. In short order Army scored a TD to close the gap to 26-17 and give the home crowd renewed hope. Overstreet needed to take into account the game situation and circumstances before making the gaffe of trying for an unnecessary interception when defending the pass, by batting it to the ground, would have proved a greater service to the team. The play also continued a trend in which Falcons' opponents have connected for disturbingly long gains on third and forth downs.
In the second half, Army completed a pass to WR Aaron Alexander a player who stands six feet five inches tall. Alexander was defended on the play by Charles Akinyemi, who stands five feet eight inches tall. That's a nine inch height advantage going to the receiver on the play. Thankfully the Falcons were only burned once by this mismatch during the game. Alexander's grab led directly to an Army touchdown. It's one situation if Army caught AFA with a bad personnel package on the field and audibled into a play which allowed them to exploit Air Force. It's quite another situation if AFA coaches were aware of the impending mismatch and allowed it to continue to AFA's detriment.
BACK ON TRACK. Air Force boosted its record to 7-3 with its win against Army. Next spring a third consecutive Air Force class will graduate without ever having lost a football game to Army or Navy. Conversely, third straight classes will graduate from West Point and Annapolis next spring whose ranks will never have posted a football victory against the Air Force Academy.
Army is now 0-9 on the season and remains the only winless team in division
1-A college football. Part of the atmosphere which breeds the team's current lack of success is a notion espoused by the its fans which professes that a season, such as the current one, can be "salvaged" with a win over Navy. If Army fans do not disabuse themselves of this foolhardy charade they may find themselves consigned to a growing legacy of ten game "preseasons" capped by one game regular seasons against Navy. An Army win over a storied rival such a Navy is always a welcome event at West Point and for the team's fans. To suggest a naval conquest by Army, in a season which could find the Black Knights posting a 1-11 record, constitutes a "salvaged" season is ludicrous. AFA fans extend best wishes to Army in the team's seemingly annual attempt to secure second place in CIC football competition.
Energized by its first win in four weeks and yet another CIC title, AFA now prepares for the final two games of the regular season. Next week finds the Falcons traveling to Las Vegas to face the Rebels. The following week brings the season's final home game and a chance for the team to send the senior class off in style in front of a home crowd before taking a break for the Thanksgiving holiday. Victories against the Rebels and San Diego State Aztecs will give Air Force sole possession of second place in the MWC, momentum heading into post-season play, a 9-3 record and the possibility of reentering the nation's top twenty-five polls.
GAME BALL AWARDS. It's an unlikely turn of events which finds a game ball being awarded to a participant who appeared in only one play of a game. Army tried to attack AFA's secondary on the first play of the game. C1C DB Wes Crawley never flinched. He covered his man perfectly, positioned himself properly and came away with an interception to create momentum for the Falcons before Army knew what had hit it. Crawley's interception was his fourth on the season, a figure which leads all MWC players. It was the seventh of his career and placed him one shy of moving into the academy's top ten in the interception category.
In making the play Crawley came crashing to the turf squarely on his left shoulder and the impact injured his clavicle(collarbone) forcing him out of action for the day and possibly for the remainder of the regular season. Crawley's condition will be evaluated and hopefully he will be able to rejoin the team in time for whatever bowl game the Falcons will play in December.
Crawley made his 29th career start--and 20th consecutive-- when taking the field against Army. No one on the current squad has started more games in his career than Crawley. Before the season began he was selected to appear in the East-West Shrine game. Crawley's play has been the standard against which all Air Force defensive backs measure their efforts this season. His leadership, tenacity and aggressiveness were ingredients which keyed the Falcons' early season capacity for producing turnovers. His presence was integral to the team's success and his absence is both untimely and unfortunate. How fitting that in what may turn out to be the final play of his regular season career for the Falcons, Crawley presented the team with the momentum necessary to turn the game in its favor by establishing an early lead. In recognition of his selfless effort, from which his teammates found themselves direct beneficiaries, Wes Crawley is awarded a game ball.
Senior leadership is important in CIC trophy competition. AFA received such guidance from its defense and offense against the USMA. The only player on the current Air Force team to have started more games on a consecutive basis than Wes Crawley is halfback Leotis Palmer. The senior from Darien, Georgia made his twenty-first start in the latest CIC confrontation.
As usual, Leotis was busy doing a little bit of everything. He ran for a touchdown, passed for another, returned a punt and brought back a kickoff as well. His sixty-six yards gained rushing place him one yard away from entering the top twenty ground gainers in AFA history. Palmer will certainly gain that vaunted status next week against the UNLV Rebels.
For a second straight year Leotis broke a TD run against Army. Last year's thirteen yard scamper was eclipsed by this year's twenty-seven yard dash. In an offense specifically designed to spotlight the QB and FB, Palmer's performance from the HB position has always mandated that his contributions be recognized as fundamentally important to the success the team has enjoyed during his career.
It is no coincidence that AFA has enjoyed enormous success while being blessed by Palmer's extraordinary talents during a career which has seen Leotis and his mates win more than sixty percent of their games. Air Force fans have had the continuing pleasure for the past four falls of watching one of the most talented HBs to play for Air Force during the option era. His equal or superior will not be seen soon in an Air Force uniform. For his multifaceted efforts in leading his team to another CIC title and for having led his class to an undefeated record in CIC play throughout its tenure at the academy Leotis Palmer is awarded a game ball.