In a defensive matchup that saw one of the top offenses in the Mountain West struggle for a majority of the contest, the Air Force Falcons came away with a last second field goal to win 27-24 over the Colorado State
Rams. With the loss, the Rams drop to 10-2 on the season and are officially out of contention to win the Mountain Division with a 6-2 conference record. Air Force completes their season at 9-3, which is a big turnaround considering they went 2-10 just a season ago.
On the opening drive, the Rams picked up where they left off a week ago and drove the ball 75 yards for a touchdown pass from Garrett Grayson to Rashard Higgins on a seven yard slant route. On what looked like a routine drive, the Rams looked poised for another big day on offense.
Air Force answered right back with a touchdown drive of their own that ended with a five yard D.J. Johnson run. Air Force was successful running their triple option offense and collecting first downs. The first half ended with a 17-7 Air Force lead. Shayne Davern added to the Falcon's lead with a second quarter touchdown before kicker Will Conant connected on a 33 yard attempt before the end of the first half.
The second half saw much of the same struggles for the Colorado State offense. The Rams failed to turn their opportunities into drives and punted the ball six times in the contest. Late in the third quarter, the Falcons took a commanding lead when quarterback Nate Romine finished another long drive into a one yard touchdown rush, extending the score to 24-10. Romine was in for the injured Kale Pearson who was out with an undisclosed injury.
Down by two scores, the Rams were facing a third down late with less than two minutes in the third quarter. Needing some kind of momentum, Grayson stepped up in the pocket and avoided a sack to connect with Xavier Williams for what appeared to be a ten yard completion and a first down. Williams had something else in mind and ran the ball for 76 yards and a Ram touchdown to bring the Rams within seven entering the fourth quarter.
The Rams got a quick defensive stop to open the fourth quarter, and the Colorado State offense took advantage. Grayson and running back Dee Hart marched the Colorado State offense down the field, getting down to the Air Force two yard line for a third and two conversion. On third down, Grayson threw a fade pass that appeared to be out of bounds and uncatchable. Higgins made an amazing catch in the back of the end zone to tie up the game and give the Rams the momentum with 10 minutes left in the game.
The defensive battle continued as the Falcons failed to move the ball with their next possession, giving the ball back to Colorado State with seven minutes. Hart carried the run game as the Rams moved the ball past midfield before Grayson made his one big mistake of the game. On second down past midfield, Grayson threw the ball on a slant route to the slot receiver Dieonte Gaines. Air Force defensive back Weston Steelhammer jumped the slant route and intercepted the pass to end the Ram's drive and try to set up the Falcons for the win.
The Rams defense came up big on the next drive and kept the Air Force offense from moving the ball, forcing the Falcon's to punt for the seventh time. Driving once again, the Rams got back to midfield looking to break through and take the lead late in the game.
On the Air Force 42 yard line, the Falcons forced Colorado State into a fourth and two decision. With windy conditions, Coach Jim McElwain had to decide whether to kick a 59 yard field goal, punt the ball, or try to get the first down. The decision was to run off tackle with Dee Hart, and waiting for him was a crowd of Air Force defenders to stop him short of a first down.
With 42 seconds left in the game, Air Force moved quickly from their own 42 and drove down to the Colorado State 22 setting up a 39 yard field goal with three seconds left. After the Colorado State bench tried to ice him, Conant split the uprights to complete the upset and give the Falcons the win over their in-state rival and the rights to the Ram-Falcon Trophy.
Grayson completed his final regular season game 23-46 for 366 for three scores and his one interception. Biletnikoff finalist wide out Rashard Higgins added to his already impressive resume with 12 receptions for 193 yards and two scores. Hart ran 23 times for 115 yards. Even with a productive day on offensive, the stingy Air Force defense was able to keep the Rams out of the end zone for the majority of the game, something other teams failed to do all season long.
Romine led the Falcons in both passing and rushing. He went 6-15 for 135 yards and had 25 carries for 61 yards. Johnson had 14 carries for 60 and Davern had 12 carries for 58 yards. Romine completed passes to only two Air Force receivers. He completed five passes to Garrett Brown for 88 yards and one pass to Jalen Robinette for 47 yards
Now that the Rams are officially out of the division race, they will have to wait for the next two weeks to see where they will be headed for a bowl game. With nine wins, Air Force is likely headed back to the Armed Forces Bowl, which they lost 33-14 to the Rice Owls in 2012.