Arion Worthman rushed for two touchdowns and made the game-winning touchdown pass for the Air Force Falcons to defeat the San Jose State Spartans 41-38 in San Jose State's final home game of 2016 on Saturday.
For San Jose State, Kenny Potter completed 25 of 37 passes for 340 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. He also rushed for 52 yards and three touchdowns. Tying Jeff Garcia, Potter reached 14 career rushing touchdowns by a San Jose State quarterback. Tim Crawley had 147 receiving yards on a career-high 11 catches. However, as has been consistent in Ron Caragher's time as head coach, San Jose State struggled to stop Air Force's triple option offensive attack and gave up 458 rushing yards. In other words, as the official Air Force song goes, "nothing can stop the U.S. Air Force."
"I just wanted to help the team win, as best as I could," said Crawley.
Potter also called this loss "tough to deal with." This loss drops San Jose State to 3-8 (2-5 Mountain West) and casts doubt on Ron Caragher's future as head coach in a time when criticism of his coaching performance has increased among fans and some sports writers.
Prior to the game, the 17 seniors on the team were honored in an on-field ceremony with their families also on the field.
Under pressure on the opening drive, Potter found a wide-open Crawley for 21 yards to the Air Force 35 and converted a first down with a 10-yard scramble two plays later. Potter later found redshirt freshman receiver Bailey Gaither for 25 yards as Gaither broke free from the secondary and waltzed into the end zone for the first score and his first career touchdown.
On the first Air Force play from scrimmage, Tim McVey broke free for 36 yards on a pitch play. Air Force scored the tying touchdown on a Worthman 4-yard keeper on third down. Overall, San Jose State gave up 458 rushing yards to Air Force.
San Jose State responded with another touchdown drive. After being sacked for a loss of seven yards, Potter hit a wide-open Justin Holmes on 3rd & 11 for 13 yards. He then passed to Malik Roberson for 34 yards into the red zone. Crawley dropped what would have been a touchdown pass, but Potter kept the ball 17 yards to put SJSU up 13-7, but Air Force blocked Bryce Crawford's extra point kick.
On its next drive, Air Force got the ball on its 35 after Michael Carrizosa shanked the kickoff out of bounds. In yet another long drive, a double-reverse trick play ended with wide receiver Jalen Robinette throwing an incomplete pass in the end zone. Air Force settled for a 24-yard Luke Strebel field goal to pull within 13-10 in the second quarter. San Jose State responded by going up 20-10 in a drive that included two fourth-down conversions, the last one a 1-yard touchdown run by Potter around blockers. Following another long Air Force touchdown drive and aided by two Air Force defensive penalties in the final minute, San Jose State walked off at halftime with a 23-17 lead after a 31-yard field goal by Crawford.
The third quarter was disastrous. Following a holding penalty that took the team out of the red zone, Potter threw a pass intended for Rahshead Johnson, but Air Force linebacker Weston Steelhammer covered Johnson well and picked off the pass. This interception was essentially a slow pick-six, as Air Force drove 78 yards in nine plays for a go-ahead 25-yard touchdown by Worthman. Despite giving away a free first down on a holding penalty, Air Force then strip-sacked Potter on the next drive and three plays later was up 31-23 after a D.J. Johnson 4-yard touchdown run.
What could have been another interception by Potter on the next drive became 25 free yards for San Jose State, thanks to holding and personal foul penalties against Air Force. That drive ended with a third-down sack. However, on the ensuing drive, Worthman threw an ill-advised pass right into the hands of Andre Chachere, who returned the pick 50 yards to the Air Force 28. Potter completed a third-down, 3-yard pass on the next drive to Malik Roberson as time expired in the third quarter, then ran in the two-point conversion for a 31-31 tie.
Owens ran 52 yards all the way to the San Jose State 23 on Air Force's first play from scrimmage, but Chad Miller made a touchdown-saving third down tackle to hold Air Force to a 22-yard field goal and 34-31 lead. The two teams then exchanged punts, a rarity as both teams punted only a combined five times. Aided by a 21-yard pass to Johnson and 42-yarder to Crawley by Potter, San Jose State went up 38-34 on a 1-yard sneak by Potter in what turned out to be his final touchdown at CEFCU Stadium. Oddly, public address announcer Russ Call did not make his usual "touchdown, Spartans!" yell after that score.
Air Force drove to the San Jose State red zone on the next possession, but Miller made another big play in the red zone by forcing a fumble on Ronald Cleveland at the 1-yard line. Jermaine Kelly recovered the fumble, a play upheld in replay review. However, questionable play-calling followed, as Potter passed the ball twice after a 1-yard quarterback sneak.
Caragher defended his clock management strategy on the possession after the fumble recovery. He said that he decided not to run the ball and risk a safety that would cut the lead to two points and put Air Force within a field goal of winning the game.
He also said that he called a run-pass option play on second-and-9 from the 2-yard line, citing "the way they [Air Force] were just selling out on stopping the run." Ultimately, that play ended on an incomplete pass.
Additionally, Caragher said that he wanted his team to convert a first down and avoid punting on a short field.
"We went for it, feeling like we needed to make a first down here, or else we're going to punt the ball and give them the ball inside the 50-yard line," explained Caragher.
Air Force needed to use only one of its three timeouts. Carrizosa's punt and Cleveland's subsequent 5-yard return gave Air Force the ball at the San Jose State 33. Two rushing plays set up Worthman's 22-yard go-ahead touchdown pass to Robinette. In the final San Jose State drive, Steelhammer again picked off a Potter pass to seal the game.
Caragher made an unusually long, five-minute opening statement in his postgame remarks and took only one question, from a reporter with campus newspaper The Spartan Daily.
The team's season finale is on Saturday, Nov. 26 at rival Fresno State, who is 1-10 (0-7 MW) on the season.