Huskies come up short

Fueled by their quarterbacks' relentlessness in breaking down Washington's defense, the Air Force Falcons used a balanced attack to score the go-ahead touchdown with 34 seconds left in the game to lift AFA to a hard-fought, come-from-behind 20-17 victory in front of 26,482 at Qwest Field in Seattle Saturday.

While Shaun Carney started the game at quarterback for the Falcons, it was Adam Fitch and his group of second-teamers that used a no-huddle offense to throw Washington's defense off-kilter. It worked. It allowed AFA to win their third game in a row over the Huskies and their second-straight in Seattle.

"That was intentional," Air Force Head Coach Fisher DeBerry said after the game. "We did it to change the pace of the game and I think we were successful in doing that."

AFA's Greg Kirkwood - a native of Othello, Washington - fumbled a kickoff out of bounds at the one-yard line after Washington went ahead 17-6 on a 27-yard pass from Isaiah Stanback to Cody Ellis. The man from Othello didn't stay a goat for long, beating UW safety Dashon Goldson down the middle for an 84-yard pass play from Fitch, the longest in AFA history since 1984.

"Being from Washington, I know it was a special game for him," DeBerry said of Kirkwood.

But a key chop block penalty on a successful two-point conversion forced the Falcons to settle for a PAT, giving the Huskies a coveted four-point cushion, 17-13.

The Huskies had a chance to salt away the game on the next possession. Stanback, who won the starting quarterback job this past week, looked sharp. On his way to going 19-for-27 for 242 yards and a touchdown, he converted a first down to Sonny Shackelford and had another drop through the hands of Corey Williams. That play proved pivotal.

"We needed to step up and make a play - on offense or on defense," said Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham. "If we do that, we have a good chance to win the ball game."

That's where the locomotive, grind-it-out style of Air Force paid their biggest dividends. They held a 25:22 to 19:38 time-of-possession edge on the Huskies going into the fourth quarter, and with just under six minutes left in the game and 83 yards of field turf ahead of them, it looked as if the Falcons would just keep pounding away at a defense that had fought gamely but also for too long.

Overall, the Falcons outgained Washington 425-371, despite the Huskies advantage in average per play (6.1 to 5.7).

Carney mixed the run and pass to perfection, highlighted by a pass and catch to Kirkwood that put the Falcons on the Huskies' one-yard line. Two sneaks later, Air Force had their lead. Stanback did what he could to try to move the ball into field goal range for the tie, but a hail mary missed its mark and the Falcons' comeback was complete.

The Huskies, bolstered by a ground game that saw them average nearly four yards a carry, were able to put together long scoring drives and held off an Air Force attack for most of the game. The Falcons had their moments but ultimately bogged themselves down with miscues until scoring the final 14 points of the game.

A James Sims one-yard touchdown run in Washington's opening series of the third quarter gave Washington a lead they would try desperately to salt away.

Louis Rankin's work carrying the ball - 112 yards on 23 carries - allowed junior quarterback Stanback time to get comfortable, which ultimately proved to be an important key to the game. Stanback finished with more than modest passing totals - 19-27 for 242 yards (a career high) and one touchdown - but more importantly, no turnovers. No takeaways meant the Huskies did not beat themselves. But that's not how it looked like it was going to be right from the opening whistle.

For a team that gave the ball over 42 times in 2004, a fumble on the kickoff didn't seem like the move Willingham wanted right out of the gate, but true freshman Darrion Jones recovered the ball and actually moved the ball two yards to put the Huskies' offense in motion. Jones would end up doing the same thing on the final kickoff of the game, burying the Huskies at their own 11-yard line.

The Dawgs drew first blood with an Evan Knudson 40-yard field goal after an eight-play, 57-yard drive dominated by the running of sophomore running back Louis Rankin. Rankin gained more yardage on the drive (45 yards) than he did all of last year (38).

The Falcons, typically led by Carney, used some change of pace in the first half to keep Washington's defense off-balance. Their second team no-huddle attack gave the Huskies' a noticably difficult time lining up their assignments. But just as another promising drive was halted by a Carney fumble in the first quarter, Fitch gave up the ball to Washington's Matt Fountaine at the Husky 26 with 10:22 left in the half.

Conversely, Washington was able to stay away from turnovers in the first half. Sean Douglas had a bit of a scare on a rough snap, but went rugby style and booted one into Air Force's end zone for a touchback.

A debateable pass interference call against UW corner Roy Lewis propelled the Falcons' final drive of the first half, one that went 57 yards in 13 plays - culminating in a 40-yard field goal by Scott Eberle in almost the exact same spot Knudson connected on his own kick. They ran a total of 41 plays in the first half to the Huskies' 28.

"To come on the road and be 11 points down, it didn't look too good," said DeBerry. "But you can never count a Falcon out. They were not going to be denied. It's a good sign of the character of this football team."

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