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Air Force runs down clock to stop Houston rally

DALLAS -- Air Force's offense couldn't have been better suited to play in the wind and rain brought by the edge of Hurricane Ike.

The Falcons ran the ball 71 times, didn't complete a pass and Air Force withstood a late Houston rally for a 31-28 win Saturday in a game moved to Dallas because of the hurricane.

Quarterback Shea Smith rushed for 97 yards and three touchdowns and Kyle Lumpkin added 76 rushing yards for Air Force (3-0), which passed only seven times -- without a completion.

"We were expecting bad conditions so we were ready to run the ball," said Smith, an Odessa, Texas, native who played in front of 15 family and friends in the sparse crowd.

Air Force went without a completion for only the fifth time in school history, and has won four of those. But in the first four games, the Falcons didn't even attempt a pass.

For Houston (1-2), Case Keenum completed 34 of 57 passes for 362 yards and four touchdowns. Keenum ran for 98 yards on 10 carries, and tight end Mark Hafner had three TD catches for the Cougars.

The game, originally scheduled as a home game for Houston, was shifted to SMU's Ford Stadium because of the hurricane that made landfall early Saturday.

After monitoring weather forecasts, officials from both schools decided on Friday afternoon to move up Saturday's kickoff four and a half hours from a planned 2:30 p.m. start time.

Even with the change in venue, game conditions were rainy, and winds from the outer edge of the storm gusted to 25 mph, sometimes making it difficult to pass and kick.

"The wind held the ball up a little," Keenum said. "It was slowing it down. But the weather is no excuse for how we played. Air Force came out hard and we didn't."

Houston's offense got off to a good start as Keenum was 8-of-9 for 79 yards in the opening quarter and a 7-0 lead on Keenum's 14-yard TD pass to Hafner.

Air Force's defense, entering the game fifth nationally in average points allowed (5.0) and ninth against the pass (99.5 yards), clamped down in the second quarter. Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter added more line stunts to the pass-rush scheme, and the Falcons sacked Keenum once and forced him into 10 incompletions in 19 attempts in the second quarter.

"We came out a little flat, but we had a chance to take the momentum," said Air Force defensive end Jake Paulson, who had 7 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks, and batted down a pass. "It was a lot of the scheme-calls. It put us into position to make plays. Getting pressure on the quarterback makes all the difference in the world.

The Falcons took a 10-7 edge early in the second quarter when Smith scored from 2 yards out. Air Force expanded its halftime lead to 17-7 on Savie Stephens' 7-yard touchdown run with a bit more than five minutes remaining.

The Falcons took the second-half kickoff and advanced 59 yards in eight plays, with Smith sprinting a career-long 41 yards to the 3 and Smith scoring from the 1 to make it 24-7.

Smith's 6-yard touchdown run with 4:25 left in the third quarter extended Air Force's advantage to 31-7.

Keenum threw a 25-yard TD pass to Andre Kohn with three minutes left in the third quarter, and Hafner's 7-yard TD catch with 10:11 to play made it 31-21.

Houston was driving again, but cornerback Anthony Wright's interception of Keenum's underthrown pass at the Falcons' 23 with 8:44 remaining preserved Air Force's 10-point lead.

"It was a badly thrown ball," Keenum said.

Hafner's 7-yard touchdown with 3:38 remaining narrowed the deficit to 31-28, but Air Force kept the ball on the ground seven straight times to run out the clock.

"We're a team that expects to win," Smith said. "Nobody panicked, nobody was surprised that it was a close game."