Coverage: CBS Sports Network
8:00 PM ET, October 12, 2006
Falcon Stadium, Usaf Academy, CO
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) -- Surrendering an 83-yard pass play just before halftime was just the jolt the Air Force Falcons needed.
They came back out fired up, picking off two passes and scoring three touchdowns to overcome an 18-point deficit and beat Colorado State 24-21 on Thursday night.
Captain Gilberto Perez, a senior defensive tackle playing his first game in four weeks after suffering a knee injury, talked to his teammates at halftime about sticking together and sticking up for one another.
"I love this team so much. I just feel that I had to share it with them and let them know that we can't be pointing fingers and if we come together as a team, we're going to do great things," Perez said. "Offense was like, 'Hey, we're going to score.' Defensive was like, 'Hey, we're going to stop them.' Special teams was going to do their thing."
They were right on all three accounts.
Shaun Carney led Air Force (3-2, 3-0 Mountain West) on three touchdown drives and the Rams (4-2, 1-1) were held to just 72 yards after dominating the first half.
Defensive coordinator Richard Bell also gave an inspirational halftime speech and coach Fisher DeBerry issued a dare to his players after Damon Morton's 83-yard reception from Caleb Hanie set up a touchdown just before halftime that gave Colorado State a 21-3 lead.
"I challenged them not to go back on that field if they didn't honestly believe that we could win," DeBerry said.
Air Force safety Bobby Giannini said the Falcons quickly turned their despair over the quick strike into resolve.
"When we went into the half, we were angry at ourselves for that and said we wouldn't do that again," Giannini said.
The Rams, on the other hand, were feeling pretty good about themselves and were confident they could keep it going before a series of foiled plays and penalties ruined their night, Hanie said.
"It unraveled for us in the second half," Hanie said. "We didn't expect to kill ourselves in the second half. That was the farthest thing from our mind."
After Falcons fullback Jacobe Kendrick scored on a 6-yard run, Giannini picked off Hanie's pass into heavy coverage at the CSU 14, and from there, Carney hit a sliding Spencer Armstrong to cut the Rams' lead to 21-17 with 2:15 left in the third quarter.
"And then the ball was rolling and we couldn't be stopped," Giannini said.
Carney's 19-yard pass to Victor Thompson with 11:20 left capped the comeback.
The Rams got the ball back with 4:07 remaining, but Hanie underthrew Dustin Osborn deep and cornerback Chris Sutton picked it off at the Air Force 17 with 1:59 left. Air Force salted it away with three kneel-downs.
Hanie threw for a career-best 282 yards but just 30 of them after halftime.
"He lost his composure in the second half," Rams offensive coordinator Dan Hammerschmidt said. "He couldn't settle the offense down and make some first downs. And we had too many turnovers. We should have had another turnover when he fumbled the ball on that scramble."
Carney ran for 106 yards on 14 carries and threw for 102 yards, and Chad Hall added 102 yards on 25 rushes.
Air Force stumbled through the first half and appeared headed to its second home loss in five days following a demoralizing defeat at the hands of Navy. The Falcons fumbled away their first two possessions, leading to a CSU touchdown, and Zach Sasser missed his first field goal before hitting a 23-yarder with 1:16 left in the second quarter.
George Hill was stopped at the 14 on the ensuing kickoff, but instead of settling for an 11-point halftime lead, Rams coach Sonny Lubick called for the deep pass, and Morton beat cornerback Chris Huckins off the line and hauled in Hanie's pass more than 50 yards downfield. He slipped the safety at the 10 but that allowed Huckins to recover and save the score.
Hanie took it into the right side of the end zone on a naked bootleg on the next snap for a 21-3 lead with 37 seconds left in the first half.
Colorado State went up 7-0 on Hanie's 60-yard touchdown pass to Osborn four plays after CSU cornerback Liddon Levine recovered a Hall fumble at the Rams 29 that was forced by linebacker Jon Radford. The Falcons marched right back down the field and were threatening to tie it when fullback Ryan Williams mishandled the handoff and Radford recovered at the Rams 2.
After Sasser was wide right from 48 yards, the Rams made it 14-0 when Hanie hooked up with Kory Sperry for a 6-yard TD strike.
"Fisher was probably upset with his guys the first half. We were upset with our guys in the second half," Lubick said. "I told our team at halftime that this game was far from over."