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Falcons revive their spunk

End Zone

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Something told me that Air Force wouldn't cave in and suffer an embarrassing defeat at Michigan last weekend, despite being a three-touchdown underdog.

Something told me the Falcons would handle playing in the Big House at Ann Arbor, bringing their patented poise and patience together despite 112,000 fans screaming for a blowout.

Something told me that the AFA program, in need of a new affirmation on the heels of a frustrating 7-6 season in 2011, would show us something different.

But nothing told me that Air Force would have the football in the closing minutes, just seven points away from a monumental upset. That happened, and there was not the slightest dishonor in coming up on the short end of a 31-25 score.

You can draw many conclusions, almost all of them positive. The list starts with three seniors — linebacker Alex Means, tailback Cody Getz and quarterback Connor Dietz — who have taken it upon themselves to lead this AFA team as far as it can go. That's different from recent years, when the Falcons appeared to be leaning more on some exceptional talents (quarterback Tim Jefferson, tailback Asher Clark and others) to carry them as quiet, not rah-rah leaders.

This year, the still-potent Air Force spirit, cohesion and grit are back. That doesn't mean everyone can expect an 11-1 season, but it does mean these Falcons have a chance to go further than almost any outsiders expected.

They can't afford injuries to the wrong people, starting with Getz, Means and Dietz. Those are the catalysts, and they're making a lot of the plays. Getz, in particular, has given the offense far more productive continuity (filling Clark's role) than expected, with 348 yards in two games. That puts him No. 3 nationally in rushing per game (174.0 yards), and that's not counting two other impressive numbers: 8.09 yards per carry and six touchdowns already.

Oh, and did we mention that Getz is only 5-foot-7 and 175 pounds?

Air Force has to spread the burden more in games ahead, but that should happen naturally as defenses key on Getz. That'll open the way for Dietz, an aggressive option operator, to run more than he has so far, and he's obviously throwing with accuracy as well. We also haven't even mentioned the fullbacks, who surely will become more involved.

If there's a problem on offense, it's the fact that Dietz's backup, promising soph Kale Pearson, needs more playing time. Dietz had to come out for one play at Michigan after being dinged, and Pearson simply was asked to make a handoff. The sooner he's able to give Dietz more relief when needed, the better.

As for the defense, Means can't make every play, but he's trying. Obviously the Falcons couldn't match up against Michigan's all-everything quarterback Denard Robinson, whose two long touchdown runs were the difference. But it's safe to say Air Force won't see any quarterbacks like that again. And the front line and secondary, despite having newcomers to starting duty, held up remarkably well.

There was one strange occurrence at Michigan. Head coach Troy Calhoun, after the game, spoke only briefly on the AFA radio network — then wouldn't talk to media. He also didn't allow media access to any players. That seemed strange, because there was no apparent controversy or media-related problem. The officiating seemed fine, with a Mountain West crew led by referee Greg Burks (who happens to be a Colorado Springs resident) working the game.

Calhoun e-mailed Monday to say the decision was based on players wanting to visit, even briefly, with their families before hurrying to the airport, then spending time (on the plane home) with instructors before major upcoming exams. "It's the continuing task of trying to find some balance for these guys," Calhoun says. Air Force often has taken some faculty on road trips to provide tutoring for players.

Air Force has this week off, fortunate for the academic side as well. With that break, the Falcons should be able to come back ready for a stretch of games that they can win and build fresh momentum: at Nevada-Las Vegas, Colorado State at home, Navy at home, at Wyoming, and New Mexico at home.

Stay tuned. This AFA team will be fun to watch.

routon@csindy.com

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