Warning: this is not a recap. It is a rant.
Utah State welcomed Air Force Academy to Logan tonight in a grueling game that challenged both teams to the max. One group in particular stuck out for their daring and aggressive plays, a group who snuck into the game and surprised everyone with their performance, coming up with the biggest impact on the final result. Who came away with such distinction? The referees.
Now, you'll probably want to start crying party foul on me for saying so, given that I'm a hardcore Aggie fan. Listen, I know that refs make mistakes, and sometimes the call just doesn't go your way. That's fine, that's part of the sport. But when the refs determine the outcome of the game, rather than the play of the men on the field, it crosses a line. By all means, be skeptical, but take a look at the main photo for this article (which I won't bother describing here, since a picture is worth a thousand words), and then hear me out.
It started early, when a beautiful TD throw from Kent Myers to Ron'Quavion Tarver was ruled incomplete. Given that it was a potentially significant play, it was reviewed. Everyone else watching, including the ESPN announcers, expected it to be overturned. It was obvious. Tarver caught the ball (also known as having control of the ball), feet in bounds, the ball disappears behind him in the camera's view, and reappears on the other side of him in his control as he falls to the ground. After review, the review official declared that the ruling on the field stood, meaning the booth didn't have enough evidence to overturn the call, stealing both points and some serious momentum from the Aggie offense.
Next, on the same series, Utah State decides to go for it on fourth down, given that they were deep in AFA territory and given that Myers has been clicking with his passing game. They dialed up another pass play, Myers throws to Andrew Rodriguez, and it's caught! Enough for a first down, and then some. Great job, right? This time, the referee ruled it a catch, but before the Aggies can get another play off, the game is stopped by the booth to take another look at it. In looking at the play, Rodriguez catches the ball, turns up field and takes two and a half, maybe three steps, and is hit. The hit knocks the ball loose, but Rodriguez controls it on the way down, bobbling it a bit but regaining control as he drops. The booth says that the bobble on the way down shows that he didn't make the catch, and it is ruled an incomplete pass.
Now it is starting to look a little ridiculous. Look, I don't know about you, but catching, turning up field, taking multiple steps, kinda seems like a catch to me. Okay, after the catch, maybe the hit caused a fumble, but Rodriguez regained possession. But to call it an incomplete pass? This replay official had it in for the Aggies.
Next up, Myers throws a deep ball, and whoops, it's intercepted. Shoot, dumb pass, eh? But the Aggie receiver it was thrown to was practically bear hugged the whole way down the sideline, and what do you know? There was no pass interference call. Great defense, Falcons, two thumbs up on the ref-assisted INT.
AFA would score on both possessions resulting from these awful calls/no-calls, taking a game that should have been, at worst, a 17-17 tie, and at best, possibly a 24-10 lead, and gifting AFA with a 10-17 halftime lead. On to the second half: second verse, same as the first!
With one major exception the calls continued to go against the Aggies; that one call that went USU's way was a targeting call on Weston Steelhammer in the third quarter when he hit helmet-to-helmet on Kent Myers, spearing him from the side. I'm sure if they could have gotten away with reversing the call and calling the penalty on Myers instead for sticking his head in dangerous places, I bet they would have. Fortunately, the call was so obvious, and was easily seen from so many angles, that there was no room for finding a way to somehow turn it against the Aggies, so Steelhammer was thrown out of the game and will miss the first half of Air Force's next game as well. To further endear the Falcons to national audiences everywhere, AFA Head Coach Troy Calhoun then proceeded to cuss out the refs for throwing Steelhammer out of the game. The refs didn't seem to mind his belligerence, patted him (figuratively) on the head, and life went on again as normal.
USU had clawed their way back into the game, and were down 13-17, with possession. They'd shut down AFA's offense the entire 3rd quarter, and most of the 4th quarter. The Aggies had two big plays called back on penalties. The first was actually legitimate... USU had an illegal receiver downfield. Okay, great, bring it back. Then Kent Myers had a huge run, but wait, another penalty, call it back. The TE's helmet was half an inch farther back than the rest of the lineman, so he wasn't on the line, not enough players on the line of scrimmage. Another awful call, another Aggie gain erased by the refs.
On third down on that same drive, Myers got caught behind the line of scrimmage, and was dropped. No, wait, that was the football. Ruling on the field, fumble, recovered by Air Force. Let's send it to the review official (because he has been spot on all day). Okay, he fumbled it, but recovered it on the way down, and the impact with the ground sent it out of his hands. Perfect, he's down, loss of yards, but at least we retained possession. Psyche! Apparently an angle showing that he switched hands and regained possession on the way down wasn't enough evidence to show that he really had regained possession, and so the ruling on the field stands, AFA ball. None of the awful calls are ever confirmed by review, they simply stand.
Falcons scored few plays later, putting the score at 13-24. Next series, Aggies have made some progress, but time is running out. They go it on fourth down, and Myers gets a pass off under pressure. The receiver is looking good to catch it, but the AFA defender makes a great play on the ball, and it falls incomplete! I mean, tackling the receiver before the ball arrives is a great play on the ball, amirite? Whaddya know, there's no PI call. Was anyone surprised? I wasn't either. I was furious.
I still am. I am livid with the fact that my team did not lose this football game; it was stolen from them. I am not the kind of fan who refuses to admit it when my team plays poorly, is outmatched, or outclassed. I try my absolute hardest to give props to opposing teams when props are due. In this game, there were certainly things the Aggies did wrong. The play calling in the red zone was atrocious, and there were some stupid penalties that cost the Aggies some ground. And props to AFA for coming to play; the Falcons were hitting hard, playing with passion and purpose.
With all that said, I'll repeat again what I said before: Air Force did not beat USU, and USU did not lose to Air Force. Despite errors, poor play calls, mental lapses, etc., USU should have won this game, and it wasn't their fault that they lost, nor was it their opponents that took the game from them. Purely and simply, referees took a win from the Aggies and handed it to the Falcons. It's wrong, and it's sickening.
The Falcons managed a field goal off that last turnover. USU then marched the length of the field and scored with less than a minute left, bringing the score to where it ended, 20-27 advantage Falcons. The onside kick attempt was recovered by Air Force, who ran out the clock. But none of it mattered, because the play on the field never really had anything to do with the outcome anyway.
To the Aggie players, if you read this, thank you. You played your hearts out, left everything on the field, and deserved the win. But the game is over, and there's nothing you can do about the highway robbery that took place here. Use the anger over this game to fuel you in practice this week, and go hit Boise in the mouth next week instead.
Quick Game Notes:
-Ron'Quavion Tarver had a personal best in receiving during tonight's game. His 143 yards receiving were the most by any receiver, and were good for the 2nd most yards accounted for in the game, behind Myers' 356 net yards (360 yards passing).
-Devante Mays and Dallin Leavitt both left the game with injuries again, and both injuries looked serious. No updates at this point yet on how serious they were.
-USU's run game was completely ineffective on the night, only picking up 42 yards on the ground.
-Air Force's run game was significantly less effective than it has been up till tonight; while still picking up 213 yards on the ground, no single rusher ran for 60 yards, and the Falcons were 219 yards short of their average rushing yards on the season.
-USU spread the ball around in the passing game, getting the ball to nine different receivers.