3:00 PM ET, October 11, 2003
Falcon Stadium, Usaf Academy, CO
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) -- Air Force made sure there would be no October swoon this year.
Chance Harridge ran for two touchdowns and Jordan Wilkie recovered a muffed punt for another score as Air Force beat UNLV 24-7 on Saturday.
The Falcons rank 14th nationally with 57 wins in the past six seasons, but they've struggled in October.
Air Force (6-1, 3-0 Mountain West) has lost consecutive games in the month five times since 1997, including three straight last season, and 11 of its 23 losses have come before daylight savings time kicks in.
The Falcons lost 28-25 to Navy last week, but kept the trend from continuing by rushing for 261 yards and keeping UNLV quarterback Kurt Nantkes from getting comfortable.
"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 certainly did.
UNLV (4-2) had won three straight games and was off to its best start since 1984, but the Rebels couldn't get anything going against Air Force.
The Falcons held UNLV to 250 total yards, forced two key turnovers and converted three fourth downs to keep scoring drives alive. Air Force also held Nantkes to 8-of-20 passing for 84 yards after he threw for 1,013 yards and five touchdowns the first five games.
UNLV hasn't won a conference opener on the road since beating Utah 23-21 in 1994 while in the Big West
"We just seemed tired," said UNLV coach John Robinson, whose team had won three straight. "I think we wanted to play, but we didn't have the zip that I expected us to have. We have to straighten ourselves out from how we play the total game."
UNLV had a couple of chances early, but couldn't convert.
Harridge opened the scoring late in the first period, breaking two tackles before bulling into the end zone on a 9-yard option right. The Falcons converted two fourth-and-1s to keep the 12-play, 70-yard drive alive.
The Rebels reached Air Force's 30 on their first drive, but Dillon Pieffer pushed a 47-yard field goal wide right to end it.
UNLV got a yard further on its next drive, but a false start penalty and a sack by Marchello Graddy pushed the Rebels back to the 38. This time Pieffer had a 49-yard field goal blocked by Ryan Carter.
But that was it for the Rebels in the first half.
UNLV had 18 yards the rest of the way and Adrian Wright's interception of a Nantkes pass led to a 29-yard field goal by Joey Ashcroft that put Air Force up 10-0 late in the second quarter.
The Falcons had a chance to extend the lead, but Ashcroft hit the right upright on a 47-yard field-goal attempt with 42 seconds left. Still, it was the first time Air Force had shut out a conference opponent in a half since Oct. 19, 1999, against Utah.
"Feeding off one another is what we talk about a lot here," Harridge said. "The defense came up with big plays and we capitalized on what they were trying to do."
UNLV's troubles only got worse to start the second half.
Nantkes was sacked on the Rebels' first play and Tremayne Kirkland muffed a punt at the 6 that Wilkie recovered in the end zone for 17-0 lead.
"That was a huge play in the football game," DeBerry said.
UNLV finally got going late in the third quarter by following Air Force's example.
With their passing game ineffective -- Nantkes was 6-for-15 for 63 yards in the first half -- the Rebels ran it 15 times in a 16-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Larry Croom, who finished with 91 yards, capped it with a 1-yard dive off right tackle.
The momentum didn't last long.
Air Force answered with a 12-play, 74-yard scoring drive, capped by Harridge's 1-yard sneak that put the Falcons up 24-7. He also set up the score with a 27-yard pass to Joe Schieffer on a fourth-and-3 from UNLV's 33.
Harridge finished with 89 yards on 12 carries and was 5-for-10 for 63 yards passing.
"I love their quarterback. I think he's great player and I hope he graduates -- he's 37 years old and he's been here for 12 years," Robinson said with a laugh.