FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) — Tim Jefferson threw three touchdown passes to Zack Kauth in the second quarter and Air Force routed rival Colorado State 45-21 Saturday night to reach bowl eligibility for the fifth straight season.
The Falcons (7-5, 3-4 Mountain West) were expected to have their best season under fifth-year coach Troy Calhoun but a spate of injuries left them battling for a bowl on their season finale instead. Their resounding win marked the first time in the program’s history that Air Force has won seven or more games in five straight seasons.
The Rams (3-8, 1-5) lost their seventh straight game overall and their sixth in a row to the Falcons despite sophomore Chris Nwoke’s career-best 269-yard rushing performance that included TD runs of 62 and 2 yards.
Kauth came into the game with just one TD catch this season. All three of his grabs Saturday were TDs, covering 33, 40 and 50 yards.
Asher Clark ran for 111 yards and a touchdown for the Falcons, who rolled downfield on the game’s opening drive before linebacker Mychal Sisson punched the ball out of Jefferson’s hands.
Linebacker Max Morgan recovered at the Colorado State 13, and the Rams then drove 87 yards and freshman Garrett Grayson hit Byron Steele with a 4-yard touchdown toss.
Colorado State would only gain 12 more yards the rest of the first half before trudging to the locker room down 31-7 thanks to Kauth’s three receptions for 123 yards.
Air Force tied it on the first play of the second quarter when Kauth raced past cornerback Shaq Bell and hauled in a 33-yard TD throw from Jefferson, who was creamed by linebacker James Skelton just as he released the ball.
Kauth lined up on the left side on the Falcons’ next drive, slipped past cornerback Momo Thomas and hauled in Jefferson’s 40-yard touchdown toss in stride to put Air Force ahead for good.
Jefferson, who threw for 221 yards, overthrew Kauth on a fade pass into the corner of the end zone on their next possession and Air Force settled for Parker Herrington’s 22-yard field goal and a 17-7 lead. But Jefferson didn’t misfire the next time he targeted Kauth, who again beat Thomas and grabbed a 50-yard TD throw that made it 24-7.
Grayson, a freshman subbing for injured starter Pete Thomas (knee) scrambled for a big gain on the Rams’ next drive but instead of sliding, he stayed standing as he was gang-tackled and lost the ball, his first of two fumbles that were recovered by the Falcons.
Clark reeled off a 36-yard run that set up Cody Getz’s 12-yard dash into the end zone that made it 31-7 at halftime.
The Falcons responded to Nwoke’s 62-yard TD with 3-yard touchdown runs by Mike DeWitt and Clark.
Nwoke’s performance was his second 200-yard game this month. He gained 232 against San Diego State on Nov. 12.
The Rams host Wyoming next week in their quest to end their long losing skid dating to a 35-34 win at Utah State on Sept. 24. Coach Steve Fairchild has a year and $750,000 left on his contract and athletic director Paul Kowalczyk reiterated Saturday that he’ll review his head football coach’s status after the season.
Kowalczyk told The Associated Press that the NCAA’s recommendation for $2,000 annual stipends for student athletes beginning in the next academic year would cost CSU about $300,000 in scholarship boosts but that would have no effect on his decision whether or not to stick with Fairchild.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)