*Field Goals* - Kicked in the Pants

Fisher DeBerry talks incessantly about the importance of the kicking game and the play of special teams. He takes it as a personal point of pride that Air Force teams excel in these areas of football. Breakdowns in all phases of these two elements of the Air Force team cost it the game against San Diego State as the Aztecs beat the Falcons, 38-34, with a touchdown in the final minute of play.

   MELTDOWN. Atrociously poor punting, a missed extra point attempt, a shanked field goal effort, a muffed punt and porous coverage during a kickoff return by San Diego State were among the mistakes committed by Air Force against the Aztecs enabling the visitors to post a victory powered by twenty-one, fourth quarter points.

   Entering the game with San Diego State, Air Force had permitted a total of sixteen points to be scored against it in the fourth quarter of six previous home contests. SDS did something neither Notre Dame nor Colorado State had been able to do by scoring three, fourth quarter TDs. The outburst helped San Diego State steal the game from Air Force.

   AFA senior, John Welsh, struggled badly on three punts early in the first half, each of which led to the Aztecs establishing great field position. Two of the Aztecs' first three drives began inside the Falcons' fifty yard line, while the visitors began their third possession on their own forty-six yard line. San Diego State used the Falcons' largesse to open a 10-0 lead only nine minutes into the game.

   AN ABSENCE IS ENDED. A season marked by inconsistent production by AFA fullbacks came to an abrupt end as Air Force FBs shredded the Aztecs for 175 yards and a TD. Steve Massie (12/123/1TD) exploded for the best day of his career including a 59 yard TD jaunt late in the first half to give the Falcons their first lead of the day at 14-10. Tim Gehrsitz added (10/46) and Adam Cole tacked on (1/6) as Air Force rediscovered an elemental portion of its option attack which had been ineffectual for most of the season's first eleven games.

   Massie was particularly prolific in the opening half totaling 105 yards on just eight carries and his long scoring dash. Adjustments implemented at halftime by SDS and a curious decision by the Falcons' coaching staff to move away from what had been the team's most effective offensive weapon in the first half, combined to curtail production from Air Force fullbacks in the second half.

   TURN FOR THE WORSE. After erasing a ten point deficit to take a four point lead at halftime, Air Force forced the Aztecs to punt early in the third quarter and scored on a Chance Harridge to Alec Messerall 29 yard pass to take an eleven point lead, 21-10, just over three minutes into the second half. On the ensuing possession, the Falcons again held the Aztecs, forcing another punt, on what turned out to be the beginning of the end for Air Force.

   Leotis Palmer made an ill-advised attempt to fair catch a ball kicked into a driving wind. With the ball in mid-flight and being pushed toward midfield, Palmer continued his effort to catch and secure the ball. The Aztecs recovered the muffed punt, and on the next play, QB Lon Sheriff tossed a 26 yard TD pass to slotback Ronnie Davenport. Instead of having the ball with an eleven point lead and a chance to widen the gap, Air Force now found itself faced with a mere four point lead at, 21-17, and a newly energized opponent.

   Harridge scored the second of his three rushing TDs late in the quarter to give the Falcons a 27-17 lead, but place-kicker Joey Ashcroft missed the point after touchdown conversion attempt. A missed field goal attempt early in the fourth quarter enabled SDS to dodge a bullet and the Aztecs scored two TDs to regain the lead, 34-27, with 5:23 remaining.

   A RECORD RUN. Harridge again took matters into his own hands and sprinted for a thirty-five yard touchdown, his third on the day and 22nd on the season, which established a new NCAA single season record for rushing TDs by a quarterback. Navy's Chris McCoy held the former mark of 20 set in 1997. Harridge pestered SDS throughout the day going 22/117/3TDs as he broke the 100 yard barrier for the sixth time on the year. He also connected on six of twelve passes for 125 yards and the touchdown to Messerall.

   Air Force kicked off to the Aztecs with just 3:16 remaining in the fourth quarter. A well placed kick near the East sideline seemed to give San Diego State no room in which to produce a runback, but poor tackling and bad pursuit by AFA's special teams allowed SDS to begin its drive from the forty yard line. Sheriff nickel and dimed his way down the field with completions to Kassim Osgood and J.R. Tolver before running back, James Truvillion, bulled his way into the endzone on the final yard of the drive with only fifty-eight seconds showing on the scoreboard.

   Harridge and the Falcons mounted a final drive which concluded with tight end Adam Strecker making his first catch of the day on a forty-one yard completion. Unfortunately for Air Force, Strecker was gang-tackled as he made the catch on the Aztecs' three yard line while time expired.

   STOCKING STUFFERS. Air Force ended the regular season portion of its schedule with an 8-4 record. AFA and SDS posted 4-3 Mountain West Conference records. If New Mexico defeats Wyoming next week the Lobos will finish in sole possession of second place in the conference and SDS would edge AFA for third place based on its victory over the Falcons. If the Lobos lose to Wyoming, then AFA, SDS and New Mexico would finish in a three way tie for second place in the MWC.

   The Falcons are bowl eligible and bowl qualified. They will have to wait until after the New Mexico-Wyoming game is played next weekend to learn if they will be heading to the Las Vegas Bowl on Christmas Day to play a PAC 10 team--likely Oregon State or Washington--or whether they'll head to the San Francisco Bowl and a possible match with the Boston College Eagles of the Big East.

   Air Force finished the regular season with a 4-1 record on the road, with only an upset loss to Wyoming. The Falcons were a disappointing 4-3 at home.

   The Falcons finished their home season by dropping consecutive games in Falcon Stadium to Notre Dame, Colorado State and San Diego State. It's the Falcons' first three game home losing streak since 1992.

   Air Force players and coaches will have several weeks to ponder how it is the team allowed more points to Army (30) than to Notre Dame (21) and more points to San Diego State(38) than to MWC champion CSU (31).

   The 2001 AFA team, one of coach Fisher DeBerry's most porous defensive units, limped to the finish line by winning only two of its final seven games. The year's team sped to a 6-0 start only to slow to a crawl over the second half of the schedule which found the Falcons posting just a 2-4 mark since soaring to fifteenth in one national poll going into its meeting with Notre Dame.

   For the fifth consecutive game, Air Force allowed an opponent to score more than thirty points. A newly installed 3-3-5 defensive alignment, which was so effective in leading Air Force to six wins with which to begin the season, faltered badly over the second half of the schedule. On a day in which the Air Force offense exploded for a season's best 538 yards it wasn't enough to produce a victory at home against an opponent which entered the game 3-8 on the year and 1-5 on the road.

   After the game DeBerry spoke openly about his concern over the poor tackling Air Force has displayed late in the season. He said that when the team resumes practices for its bowl game particular attention will be paid to improving techniques in that area of the team's play and that there will be an increase in contact drills.

   AFA defensive coaches will need to spend much of the team's bowl preparation team fixing a defense which has allowed 165 points--33 a game--in its final five games of the regular season.   

   Chance Harridge has rushed for 1,164 yards and passed for 971 yards. In AFA's bowl game he will have the opportunity to join AFA quarterbacks Bart Weiss, Dee Dowis, Beau Morgan and Keith Boyea as players who have run and passed for 1,000 or more yards in a season. Harridge would become the fourteenth player in division 1-A history to do so.

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