Air Force loses MWC opener to No. 25 TCU, 35-19
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP)
The 25th-ranked TCU Horned Frogs brushed off their own blues - an upset loss to Baylor last week - and routed Air Force 35-19 on Saturday for their 18th straight win in the Mountain West Conference.
Down 21-3, Air Force opened the second half by forcing a three-and-out. But on the ensuing punt, Travaras Battle punched the ball out of Hunter's hands and Greg Burks recovered at midfield. That led to Casey Pachall's second touchdown pass, a 21-yard connection with freshman David Porter that all but put the game out of reach at 28-3.
''It happened so fast,'' said Hunter, who had a 55-yard scoring pass and ran 80 yards for another TD in last Saturday's 37-20 win over South Dakota. ''I feel like I caught it clean but I don't know if he got a good helmet placement on it or what. I could have caught it and tucked it faster.
''It was definitely disappointing. I feel like I let my defense down the most. They had gone out there and worked hard to get a three-and-out and gain momentum and then that happened.''
The Falcons (1-1), who endured their worst loss of last season when TCU beat them 38-7 in Fort Worth, got a little closer this time around, though it didn't feel like it to coach Troy Calhoun.
''We got thumped today, and I think the score is closer than what happened,'' said Calhoun, glad his team is off next week. ''We need a bye, and for us to improve as a football team, this is the week we're going to have to do it, even before we get back into playing any more games.''
Air Force had hoped to reverse its fortunes against TCU (1-1) on its way to winning the MWC crown this season, but now will face an uphill climb in the conference.
Hunter said the Falcons shouldn't dwell on the loss, and the bye should help the team refocus.
''We just have to have a short memory,'' Hunter said. ''We have a lot of season left. We have a lot of big games left. We got a bye week, so that will definitely help us out. We can definitely make improvements fast. I feel like we're that intense of a team to see what we've got to do and practice it and get it right.''
The Falcons were driving on their opening possession when running back Wes Cobb's illegal chop block thwarted their momentum. Defensive end Jon Koontz sliced through to stuff quarterback Tim Jefferson on fourth-and-3 at midfield.
That set up a 49-yard touchdown drive capped by Luke Shivers' 3-yard TD catch on a rollout by Pachall, who finished 20 of 25 for 206 yards.
Matthew Tucker's 1-yard leap made it 14-0 and his second TD run came after Antoine Hicks made a one-handed, 21-yard catch and defensive back Anthony Wooding was whistled for hitting him in the head, tacking on another 15 yards deep in Air Force territory.
Pachall was almost perfect in the first half, when he completed his first 11 passes and 16 of 18 overall for 174 yards and a TD. But with the Frogs on the Falcons 30 in the final minute before halftime, he was sacked and stripped by linebacker Jamil Cooks, who recovered the fumble with 20 seconds left.
The Falcons quickly moved downfield but never went for the end zone, and Parker Herrington's 37-yard field goal made it 21-3 at halftime.
It appeared they had carried that momentum out of the tunnel after forcing a quick punt by the Frogs, but Pachall capitalized on the fumbled punt by Hunter to hit Porter for a score that gave TCU a 25-point lead early in the third quarter.
Looking for a spark, Air Force got one when David Baska gained 34 yards on a fake punt. One play later, wide receiver Jonathan Warzeka took the pitch from his quarterback, pulled up and hit Zack Kauth in stride for a 32-yard touchdown, the senior's second career TD toss.
''I'm 2 for 2 against TCU with touchdowns, but obviously the scoreboard says it all,'' Warzeka said. ''I don't know if we thought we were a little bit better than we were, but we just didn't come out to play today. We'll lick our wounds right now, but we'll be all right.''
The Horned Frogs put this one away with a 10-play, 80-yard drive capped by Waymon James' 4-yard TD run that made it 35-9.
With Connor Dietz having replaced Jefferson at quarterback, Calhoun made the curious call to go for a field goal with the Falcons facing fourth-and-goal from the 4 with 8:18 left in the game and his team trailing by 24 points. Herrington split the uprights to make it 35-12.
Dietz led the Falcons on a cosmetic scoring drive in the final minute, taking it in from the 1 with 4 seconds left.