8:00 PM ET, November 3, 2006
Michie Stadium, West Point, NY
WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) -- Shaun Carney wore a big smile that belied what he was feeling.
"I'm bummed we came up six points short," said Air Force's junior quarterback, who predicted his Falcons would beat archrival Army 49-7 on Friday night.
Instead, Air Force won 43-7, scoring 34 points off five first-half turnovers by the Black Knights, four of which came on consecutive plays from scrimmage.
"I just wanted to get our guys to come out motivated and hot out there, so that's why I said it," Carney said. "I think it got the guys fired-up. I knew it would be up on the Army bulletin board."
It was, and it made little difference after Adam Zanotti returned a fumble 98 yards for a touchdown less than six minutes into the game.
The Black Knights started well. They forced Air Force into a three-and-out on the game's first possession and took over at the Falcons 46 after punter Zach Sasser shanked his kick out of bounds for only 20 yards.
Army was poised to score after Wesley McMahand's 6-yard run to the Air Force 1. But freshman quarterback Carson Williams, making just his second start, fumbled the next snap and Zanotti scooped it up behind everybody and returned it the length of the field for a touchdown to give the Falcons a stunning 7-0 lead at 9:02.
"That might have been the longest play in Air Force history time-wise," Zanotti joked afterward. "I saw coach [Fisher] DeBerry running down the sideline, and he beat me to the end zone."
"They were smashing it right at us and we were not stopping them," said Air Force strong safety John Rabold, who had the first two interceptions of his career. "And then Z runs it all the way back, and we started getting turnovers left and right. We always talk about the importance of turnovers, but you never imagined they're going to come like that."
It was the fourth straight loss for Army (3-7), which a year ago halted an eight-game losing streak to the Falcons (4-4) by winning at Falcon Stadium for the first time since 1977.
This one proved no contest. The Black Knights, who have allowed 99 points off 32 turnovers this season, gave away the game and a chance to win the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy.
The coveted hardware, given annually to the winner of the football competition between the three major service academies, will remain in Navy's possession even if the Middies lose to Army next month. Navy, which has won the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy outright the past three years, beat Air Force 24-17 earlier this season and will retain possession.
"It's a horrible way to go out, especially for all the seniors," defensive end Cameron Craig said. "But there's nothing we can do about it now. We can't lie down in the dirt and die."
"I've been doing this for about 26 years," said Army defensive coordinator John Mumford, who addressed the media in place of head coach Bobby Ross. "I've been around at times where the wheels fall off. But something like that in a rivalry game like this, where the emotions are high, it can set you back pretty quick."
Air Force scored a school-record 36 points in the second quarter and snapped a two-game losing streak.
"We were hungry for the ball like a piranha because we knew they had turned it over before," DeBerry said. "We thought if we could get some turnovers we would have an opportunity to do a lot more in this game. They were very kind to us."
Army entered the game leading the nation with 26 giveaways and upped the total to 31 before the first half was over, losing two fumbles and suffering three interceptions. Clearly, though, Zanotti's touchdown was the most important.
"It definitely changed the complexion of the game when they mishandled that ball," DeBerry said. "And when Adam was able to go the distance, then it really seemed to ignite our team."
The Army defense again stopped the Falcons powerful option attack and forced a punt after only four plays the next time Air Force got the ball. But on Army's first play from scrimmage, linebacker Drew Fowler forced and recovered a fumble by McMahand at the Army 47 and the Falcons scored again on a 19-yard run by Chad Hall, who finished with 93 yards rushing.
Hunter wasn't through. He fumbled the next kickoff at his goal line, and Air Force's Chris Thomas recovered it in the end zone for a safety to put the Falcons up 23-0.
After Carney scored on a 6-yard run, the Falcons intercepted Williams again on Army's next play from scrimmage. Rabold returned it 15 yards to the Army 26, and if the Black Knights didn't know it wasn't their night by then, they found out six plays later.
Jacob Kendrick fumbled at the goal line and Beau Suder recovered it in the end zone to put the Falcons up 36-0.
Williams again was intercepted by Rabold on first down on Army's next play from scrimmage and Carney hit Spencer Armstrong for a 36-yard touchdown pass with 39 seconds left in the half.