COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Entering Thursday’s contest, the CSU Rams and Air Force Falcons were two sports cars, speeding neck and neck down the freeway towards the Mountain West Conference championship. By the end of the game, the Falcons had been forced off the highway by a Ram express that found another gear.
In perhaps their best all-around performance of the season, the Rams (8-2, 4-0 MWC) took the driver’s seat in their chase for a second Mountain West Championship in three seasons Thursday, routing the Air Force Falcons (6-3, 3-2 MWC) in somewhat surprising fashion, 31-12.
“I expected it to be like a two-point win or two-point loss, but this is great, we’ll take it however it comes,” said CSU offensive lineman Albert Bimper. “It feels great to be in the driver’s seat.”
Bimper and his linemates were a big reason for CSU’s dominance. The big men up front allowed the Rams to run roughshod – racking up 199 rushing yards on the Falcons’ defense, which had been leading the Mountain West by only allowing 101.5 yards per game.
“That’s just CSU football – we’ll hit you in the mouth,” said running back Cecil Sapp. “We smashed them in the mouth tonight and we held onto the ball. No turnovers was key for us tonight.”
Sapp had another huge outing, rolling over Falcon defenders left and right on his way to 132 yards and two touchdowns, his seventh 100+ yard outing in 10 games.
“Cecil Sapp deserves a lot of credit because he is a tough, tough player,” said AFA head coach Fisher DeBerry. “He showed just how tough he could be tonight because he hung onto the football and we pride ourselves in forcing turnovers.”
AFA’s pride was rocked in the second half when CSU took the game over, thanks to a surprising offensive outburst from an unlikely source. Kicker Jeff Babcock effectively changed the game’s momentum for good when he recovered a fumble on his opening kickoff and ran it in for a touchdown, putting the Rams ahead 28-12.
“I don’t know of a worse way in the world to start a second half,” DeBerry said of Babcock’s touchdown. “We felt we were in good position to win the game coming out of the half but our turnovers ended up killing us.”
The Rams also used a rejuvenated defensive effort to help kill the Falcons in the second half. After scoring 12 points on 159 total yards in the first half, the Falcons hit a green and gold wall after the break. The Rams clamped down on Air Force’s triple-option attack, holding the Falcons to 91 total yards while pitching a shutout for the half.
“Our plan was to run one defense the whole game, and it just took us a little while to put things in place and figure out what we were doing,” said linebacker Drew Wood. “The option can be no fun, but tonight we played it about as well as we could.”
The Falcons used every possible weapon to try and break through the Rams’ defensive stronghold, using 11 different ball carriers. AFA quarterback Chance Harridge, the conference’s leading scorer and third leading rusher entering the night, was the chief offensive weapon, generating 115 yards and one touchdown. Though the Falcons were able to put up 221 yards on the ground, their big plays were few and far between.
“You know they’re going to chip away and get the hard yards, but if you keep them from getting a big play, eventually you’re gonna stop them for a loss,” Wood said.
The win – CSU’s first in Colorado Springs since 1996 — means the Rams control their own destiny in the conference race. It was also CSU’s first win on a Thursday night road game. And while they find themselves two games up on Air Force, they realize the war is far from over.
We want to win out and we’ve got more work ahead,” said Joey Cuppari, CSU wide receiver. “The last two weeks our whole team has played really well and it feels like we’re getting better every week. When you beat teams of the caliber of Air Force and BYU bad, it’s fun times.”
The Rams enter their second bye-week of the season before gearing up for a road battle at San Diego State. Should the Aztecs (3-5, 3-0 MWC) remain undefeated, that game could very well be for the conference championship.
Edited by Jon Ackerman and Josh Hardin