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Air Force overcome not-so-special teams

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."