Saturday, September 14, 2019

Air Force 30, Colorado 23 (OT): Falcons survive in an instant classic after a 16,412-day hiatus in the rivalry

Photo Credit: Adam Chalifoux

By: Adam Chalifoux
Twitter: @kungfouxhustle

BOULDER, CO— After a 16,412-day hiatus, the Air Force Falcons and Colorado Buffaloes renewed their football rivalry Saturday afternoon. The last time the Falcons visited Boulder on the gridiron, Richard Nixon had resigned, Colorado Head Coach, Mel Tucker was a year old, and the goal post was moved to the back of the endzone.

While the game has evolved by leaps and bounds since 1974, the Air Force Falcons came into Folsom Field with an old-school game plan; punish the defense with the run game. Colorado brought a modern style by spreading the ball with a high-flying passing attack. Early on, it worked. On the first drive of the game, Senior signal caller Steven Montez found junior Laviska Shenault for a 42-yard passing touchdown.

Air Force went right to work on their signature power run game but Aaron Maddox put a stop to the Falcons’ drive, forcing a fumble that was scooped up by Taylor Waters. Colorado looked as if it could put it away early, marching down for a field goal to make it 10-0 halfway through the first.

The Falcons responded however by hitting the Buffaloes with a slew of power run plays to lull the defense to sleep before scoring on a 32-yard passing touchdown from DJ Hammond to Geraud Sanders.

On the ensuing drive, the Air Force defense turned up the pressure on Montez, forcing a missed snap and several inaccurate passes forcing a punt.

“Plain and simple it is on me. I can’t come out lethargic like that,” said Montez after the game.
With the ball and momentum, Air Force bruised its way down the field with a 12-play, 78-yard drive that was sealed with a Hammond two-yard rushing touchdown. Suddenly, the loud and confident home crowd became a little less raucous.

Despite the 11 a.m. local start, the sun looked like it could really be setting early on the Buffaloes when Hammond continued to impress with an 81-yard passing touchdown to Ben Waters as the Falcons lead increased to 20-10.

“I was surprised on his burst of speed. At first, I thought he was going to get tackled when they tried to trip him but then he got away,” said Hammond.

At halftime, there were a few alarming numbers for Colorado who came into the game fresh off a huge win over Nebraska and the three-point favorite. Air Force had more than doubled Colorado’s total yards with 290 to the Buffaloes’ 133. 154 of Air Force’s yards came off the rushing attack, which worked like body punches in a heavyweight fight, leaving the defense gasping for air and desperate to stay on their feet. Colorado also sustained self-inflicted wounds by losing 30 yards on their five first half penalties.

The Buffaloes, however, were not in unfamiliar territory having rallied from down 17 the previous week. Just as in their games versus Colorado State and Nebraska, the defense improved in the second half, keeping the Falcons off the scoreboard for the entire third quarter. However, Colorado was unable to chip away at the deficit either in that time and lost senior strong safety, Aaron Maddox to injury.

“I don’t know exactly what his injury is but I heard it didn’t look too good,” said Montez, on Maddox who was carted off the field.”

Early in the fourth quarter, Air Force took its biggest lead of the game, on a 47-yard Jake Koehnke field goal to make it 23-10. After disappearing for three quarters, Colorado’s offense finally returned when they were needed most. Montez led the Buffaloes down the field for a 12-play, 75-yard drive, finding Dimitri Stanley for touchdown. Air Forces defense came up huge however, with a blocked point after attempt that proved to be one of the most important plays of the game. 
Needing a stop to stay alive, the home crowd took their energy to a new level making it difficult for Air Force to hear the snap count which resulted in consecutive false start penalties deep in their own territory, quickly forcing the Falcons to punt giving Colorado a chance to tie or win the game with just under five minutes left.

“Our team will never give up, our team can get the job done, it also shows that no matter what, we keep fighting so we definitely need that type of team if we want to do good down the stretch,” said Shenault, who led all receivers with eight catches, 124 yards, and a touchdown.
Again, the Buffaloes, stampeded down the field, making their way to the two-yard line with 33 seconds remaining. Shenault took a direct snap and fought his way into the endzone. After the point after, the game was knotted at 23 and headed into overtime. This is where things peaked for Colorado.

The Buffaloes elected to defend after winning the coin toss and Kadin Remsberg added 25 more yards to make his total 150 on the day, dashing into the endzone. Despite the support of the home crowd, the Buffaloes finally ran out of late game magic falling to Air Force, 30-23 in overtime.

“We have to give Air Force a lot of credit,” Tucker said. “Those guys have some good players, play extremely hard, are well coached and made more plays than we made.”
After scoring the first ten points of the game, Colorado fell stagnant, demonstrating a trend of slow starts after failing to score in the first half the previous week. 

“It is consistency. You have to do it play in and play out. That is where we are lacking now,” said Tucker. 

Meanwhile, Air Force is not letting their revenge game, 45 years in the making get to their heads.

“It’s a good one but it’s just one win. No more than that. Even if the outcome was different, it still would have been just one game,” said Air Force coach Troy Calhoun.

Colorado will not spend too much time grieving their loss either. Coach Tucker has a “24-hour rule”. Win or lose, the focus must shift to the next opponent after 24 hours. For Colorado, that is on the road against Arizona State a week from today. Air Force, meanwhile is set to play No. 22 Boise State on Friday night.