Air Force overcomes Demons, 65-21

USAF photo: Mike Kaplan Senior running back Jared Tew strongarms Northwestern State linebacker Yaser Elqutub in the Falcons’ season opener against the Demons at Falcon Stadium on Sept. 4.

By Staff Sgt. Don Branum: U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

FALCON STADIUM — If the Air Force’s home opener was supposed to be an easy ride, Northwestern State missed the memo. The Falcons brought down a stubborn Demons team, but only after they overcame a few demons of their own.

Air Force rallied in the second half, outscoring Northwestern State 41-0 in the second half en route to a 65-21 rout of the Division I-AA Demons after struggling to maintain its lead in the first half.

“Give (NSU) some due. They came out and were ready to play, and they hit us in the nose in the first half,” Falcons head coach Troy Calhoun said. “In some ways, we were on our heels.”

Both teams suffered serious injuries, with Air Force’s Reggie Rembert and NSU’s Josh Cunningham both carried off the field on stretchers in the first half of the game. Both players had motion in their limbs, but medics x-rayed both players after carrying them from the field as a precaution.

The Falcons scored on their first drive after stopping a Demons’ drive that broke into Air Force territory. However, a costly fumble by Anthony Wright on a punt return gave the Demons possession of the ball at the Falcons’ 7, and Demons quarterback Paul Harris found Justin Aldredge in the end zone to tie the game.

Air Force struck back on its next drive, with receiver Mikel Hunter scoring his first career touchdown on a 24-yard reverse. Erik Soderberg nailed a chip shot from 29 yards on the successive drive to make it a 17-7 game.

But while Air Force didn’t relinquish its lead, the Demons fought like a team possessed. NSU quarterback Paul Harris landed on his feet after tumbling feet-over-head into the air to put NSU back within three.

A 50-yard kickoff return by Jonathan Warzeka set up a 37-yard scamper by Tim Jefferson on the keeper in the second quarter, but the Demons again fought back, with Tyler Wolfe marching NSU into the Air Force end zone on a two-minute drill that ended with 33 seconds in the half. Tim Jefferson connected with Kyle Halderman on the Falcons’ last possession of the half to get within striking range, but a Hail Mary pass into the end zone fell incomplete.

NSU owned the first half, leading Air Force in time of possession by nine minutes; in total yards, 257-227, and in third-down conversions, 6-of-11 versus 1-of-5. Air Force led only on the scoreboard, 24-21.

However, halftime was the last time the score even looked close. The Falcons pulled away in the third quarter, scoring four touchdowns on rushes by Jon Warzeka, Asher Clark and Jefferson and a 29-yard pass from Jefferson to Kyle Halderman. Its first two touchdowns came within two minutes: one at 11:43 to play in the quarter and the other at the 10-minute mark.

At the end of the third quarter, Air Force held a 52-21 lead and never looked back. The Falcons owned the football in the second half, going 5-for-6 on third down and moving the ball nearly 300 yards. They also held the time of possession advantage in the second half with 17:22.

“I thought our team played really well for the first half,” said NSU head coach Bradley Dale Peveto. “But in the second half, we weren’t able to make first downs and move the ball.”