FORT COLLINS, Colorado (AP) — Zac Larrier scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard run in the third quarter, punctuating a drive aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Colorado State bench because of fans pelting the visiting Falcons’ sideline with snowballs, and No. 19 Air Force remained undefeated with a 30-13 win over the Rams on Saturday night.
Larrier also threw for a score and Emmanuel Michel and John Lee Eldridge III ran for touchdowns as Air Force (8-0, 5-0 Mountain West) matched a school record with its 13th straight win, dating to last season.
Michel finished with 130 yards on 20 carries, including a 5-yard TD run in the fourth quarter. Matthew Dapore had a 29-yard field goal late in the third quarter as the Falcons’ pulled away in the second half to win their seventh in a row against Colorado State (3-5, 1-3). “I think we just keep fighting and keep pushing and just know that we’ve got to finish and eventually we’ll wear people out,” Michel said. “Nobody wants to take that punishment down the middle over and over again.”
Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi threw 61 yards for a touchdown to Justus Ross-Simmons, and Jordan Noyes had field goals of 40 and 49 yards for Colorado State during a game played in a driving snowstorm.
“Air Force did what it needed to do in the second half to win the game,” Colorado State coach Jay Norvell said. “I thought our defense fought really hard. We gave up a couple of drives in the second half and we couldn’t respond offensively.”
Officials twice warned fans in the first half, over the public address system, to stop throwing snowballs onto the Air Force sideline or risk ejection and a penalty on the home team. The snowballs persisted when Air Force got the ball to start the third quarter, and the unsportsmanlike penalty levied on the Rams kick-started the Falcons’ drive leading to Larrier’s tie-breaking 1-yard touchdown run. After the penalty, fans sitting in the lower stands behind Air Force’s sideline were ordered to move up to row 16 or higher, and ushers and security guards formed a protective barrier between the fans and the Air Force players on the sideline.
“They’re a spirited student body, which you like from a school,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “They were into it, but when it ends up being a snowball and it’s ice and frozen a little bit, then there’s a concern there it can hit somebody. But they were stirred up and they were passionate.”
The teams played to a 13-all tie in the first half in the driving snow and worsening conditions. Colorado State’s Noyes kicked his second field goal, a 49 yarder, in the waning moments of the second quarter to pull the Rams even.
A rugged Air Force defense set up both the Falcons’ first-half touchdowns around a long strike by Colorado State, when Fowler-Nicolosi passed downfield to Ross-Simmons for a 61-yard touchdown. Larrier’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Dane Kinamon followed Air Force’s fourth-down stop near midfield that gave the Falcons a short field when defenders stuffed Fowler-Nicolosi’s sneak for no gain.
Linebacker Bo Richter sacked Fowler-Nicolosi and forced a fumble that he returned to the Colorado State 11 yard line. Three plays later, Eldridge took a pitch around right end for a 10-yard score. Dapore missed the extra point.
“It’s team football where you get contributions that and somebody does kind of get it going even more so, and we did come up with some key stops,” Calhoun said.
Air Force: The Falcons defense delivered a key stop and a takeaway to boost Air Force’s offense and its top-ranked rushing attack while it steadily gained traction on Colorado State’s snow-covered field.
Colorado State: The Rams defense wore down in the second half, giving up yardage in chunks to Air Force’s ground game. It also didn’t help that their fans drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, assessed against Colorado State, for throwing snowballs at the Air Force players standing on the sideline. The penalty put added pressure on the Rams defense.
Air Force triumphed over the bitter cold and unruly Colorado State fans in addition to its solid play on the field against the Rams for another win and another likely bump up in the rankings.
Air Force: Host rival service academy Army next Saturday in Denver at Empower Field.
Colorado State: Visits neighboring Wyoming on Friday night.