6:30 PM ET, October 9, 2004
Falcon Stadium, Usaf Academy, CO
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) -- A third-and-1 plunge play into the line was hardly the most exciting moment of the game. It was certainly the most important.
Adam Cole's 1-yard run with a minute left allowed Air Force to keep its abominable punt team on the sideline and hang onto a 28-23 win over New Mexico on Saturday night.
"I was begging somebody for a bottle of Pepto Bismol," Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry said.
The Falcons (3-3, 2-1 Mountain West) won despite nearly blowing a 21-0 halftime lead, having two punts blocked for touchdowns and shanking four more that failed to go 20 yards.
"It was somewhat of an embarrassment," DeBerry said. "We've never had that happen before."
Still, the coach said he was prepared to punt from his own 43-yard line had Cole not barely extended the tip of the ball beyond the first-down marker. DeBerry conceded he was so scared of bringing Donny Heaton out there again, though, that he was prepared to use the kind of formation teams normally use when they're punting from the back of their end zone.
Would it have worked? Nobody will know, and for Air Force, it's probably better that way.
Heaton averaged 19 yards on eight kicks, including 16, 19 and 18 yarders in the third quarter that helped the Lobos (2-4, 0-2) close to 21-16.
Heaton said he was still shaky from a high snap in the second quarter that forced him to run 25 yards to chase down the ball. The result: A 12-yard punt that, considering the circumstances, may have been his best of the night.
"After that, I had a lot more thoughts going through my head than I should have," he said.
With the lead trimmed to five after New Mexico's first blocked punt, Air Force quarterback Shaun Carney came through big.
Moments after the Falcons got their first first down of the second half courtesy of a roughing-the-punter penalty, Carney threw back-to-back completions -- 33 yards to Greg Kirkwood and 30 yards to Alec Messerall to set up the touchdown that made it 28-16.
"Those were perfect throws," Lobos coach Rocky Long said.
Carney finished just 4-for-9 for 95 yards, but maybe DeBerry should think about letting him throw it more. The freshman came in as the sixth-rated passer in the nation and on this night, he came through when it counted most.
And given where this game seemed headed, the completions were, indeed, huge.
The New Mexico defense, awful in the first half, stopped Air Force three-and-out on five straight possessions to open the third quarter.
Trailing 28-16 with 4½ minutes left, Joe Selander scooped up the second blocked punt and ran 46 yards to cut the deficit to five. It was New Mexico's fourth touchdown off a blocked punt in its last 12 games.
"We try to block a lot of punts," Long said. "Tonight, punt blocks kept us in the game, but also cost us the game, because we roughed the punter."
The loss spoiled a 110-yard night from Lobos tailback DonTrell Moore, who returned after missing last week with a knee injury.
Meanwhile, a New Mexico defense that makes a living stuffing the option got burned twice in the first half -- on a 58-yard run by Darnell Stephens and a 28-yard run by Anthony Butler, who each went untouched down the sideline for touchdowns.
Long said the breakdowns came because Air Force was running out of a formation he'd never seen -- no tight ends and a tackle lining up as an eligible receiver. DeBerry said he did it out of necessity, claiming he had no healthy tight ends.
"If I had seen that formation before, I'd have had a better way to adjust to it on the sideline," Long said.
Instead, he adjusted at halftime, after the Lobos were down by three touchdowns.
There were other regrets.
Trailing 14-0, Long passed up a field-goal attempt on fourth-and-goal from the 1, a play in which Moore got stuffed for no gain. He also passed up a 38-yard attempt just before halftime, instead opting for a pass that went incomplete.
"We thought about going for" the field goal, Long said. "But at the time, I wasn't sure we were ever going to slow them down, and thought we needed to score some points."
They didn't. And they also didn't get a chance to try a 52-yard field goal in the third quarter because of a false-start penalty. Had Wes Zunker, who made a 45-yarder in the third, converted on two of those kicks, the Lobos would have had the winning points.
Of course, Air Force couldn't believe its punt team allowed the game to get that close.
"We had some individual breakdowns out there," DeBerry said. "But you've got to give them a lot of credit for it, too."