Air Force rebounds from loss with win over UNLV

Updated: October 12, 2003, 2:48 PM ET

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Following last week's loss to Navy, Air Force quarterback Chance Harridge went into damage control. He had seen how one loss could turn into two or three and he didn't want it to happen again.

It worked.

Harridge's postgame talk a week ago helped keep Air Force keep its focus and prevented another October slide. Harridge ran for two touchdowns and the Falcons stuffed UNLV's offense for most of the game in a 24-7 win over the Rebels on Saturday.

"I just asked everyone to instead of sitting around in the locker room after the game and talking about the plays they should have made, I asked who was going to step up and make the plays to win the game," said Harridge, who rushed for 89 yards and threw for 63 more. "I didn't want to go through a whole week like we did and asking ourselves questions. I said 'Let's make it happen."

They sure did.

Air Force (6-1, 3-0 Mountain West Conference) held UNLV (4-2, 0-1) to 250 total yards, converted three key fourth downs and forced two turnovers that led to scores. The Falcons also had 261 yards rushing against a stingy UNLV defense and made Rebels quarterback Kurt Nantkes uncomfortable in the pocket.

The result kept Air Force from slipping into its usual October slide.

Air Force ranks 14th nationally with 57 wins since 1997, but the Falcons have followed an October loss with another the following week in five of those six seasons. They did it twice last year after losing to Notre Dame in the seventh week and 11 of their 23 losses in six years have come in the month.

"A lot of people really doubted whether this football team could recover from the Navy game, and certainly a lot of people have second-guessed our football team in the month of October," Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry said. "I think we sent a great message today that we could be a very competitive team."

They did it with tough defense and big plays at key moments.

Nantkes had thrown for 1,013 yards and five touchdowns the first five games, but he was just 8-for-20 for 84 yards against the Falcons. Air Force also sacked him three times and Adrian Wright intercepted one of his passes in the second quarter to set up a 29-yard field goal by Joey Ashcroft that put the Falcons up 10-0 at halftime.

"We didn't give them the big play," DeBerry said. "I thought our defense was in control most of the game."

They got a little help on special teams as well.

UNLV was able to move the ball on its first two drives, but Dillon Pieffer missed a 47-yard field goal on the first drive and Air Force's Ryan Carter broke through the middle to block a 49-yard attempt on the second.

UNLV punt returner Tremayne Kirkland tried to field a bouncing punt at the Rebel' 6 early in the third quarter, but the ball squirted loose and Jordan Wilkie fell on it in the end zone to put Air Force up 17-0.

"That changed the game," UNLV coach John Robinson said. "You give an Air Force team that kind of a lead and it fits right into their ball control. They're not going to make any errors."

The Falcons were even doing it on fourth down.

Air Force converted twice on fourth-and-1s on its first scoring drive, which Harridge capped with a 9-yard run on an option right.

In the fourth quarter, after UNLV had closed to 17-7 on a 1-yard run by Larry Croom, the Falcons took another gamble. Facing fourth-and-3 from UNLV's 33-yard line, Harridge hit Joe Schieffer on a 27-yard pass. That set up a 1-yard sneak by Harridge that sealed the win.

"If was a great call and I like the attitude of our coaching staff," Harridge said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index