SEATTLE - The starting quarterback with the golden arm was watching from the sideline. The backup quarterback with the running back’s body was under center. The ball was on Air Force’s 1-yard line, and the whole idea of being a home team on the road was beginning to look like a $1.8 million mistake. A mere 10 minutes, 42 seconds of football later, it was the numbers on the scoreboard, not on the check, that Air Force was most happy to take home. Down 11 points with less than a quarter to go, Air Force opened its 50th anniversary season Saturday by putting together touchdown drives of 99 and 83 yards on its last two possessions with two quarterbacks to sneak out a 20-17 win over Washington. “It didn’t look too good,” coach Fisher DeBerry said. “But you can never rule a Falcon out. They were not going to be denied in overcoming the things that happened, coming back and winning at the end.” After falling behind 17-6 when Washington’s Cody Ellis caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Isaiah Stanback, it appeared Air Force would be a footnote to Tyrone Willingham’s debut as Huskies coach. The only consolation would be the guaranteed money Seattle promoter Bob Walsh paid for Air Force to move the game to Qwest Field — and even that was a bust with only 26,482 fans in the 65,000-seat stadium. Air Force wasn’t living up to expectations either. The Falcons came into the season confident in their passing game under starting quarterback Shaun Carney, but through three quarters, nothing seemed to click. The Falcons put together four decent drives, but two ended with fumbles inside Washington’s 30-yard line and two ended with Scott Eberle field goals. Washington’s offense seemed to be gaining strength under Stanback, who passed for 242 yards and led touchdown drives on consecutive possessions to end the third quarter and open the fourth for a 17-6 lead. When senior receiver Greg Kirkwood misplayed the ensuing kickoff, pinning Air Force on its 1-yard line with 10:42 left, the situation became dire. Looking for a spark, the Falcons inserted the second-team offense and backup quarterback Adam Fitch, who bulked up for a conversion to halfback but was moved back to his original position at the start of August. Four plays later, he was celebrating with Kirkwood in the end zone after airing out an 84-yard touchdown pass — Air Force’s longest pass play since 1984. “It was a play we did earlier in the game from a different formation,” Kirkwood said. “I was running the post and Jason Brown was running the wheel and how it worked out. I beat the safety by a step and Adam threw a perfect ball.” Air Force got a 2-point conversion on a catch by tight end Robert McMenomy, but the Falcons were flagged for an illegal block and they decided to kick the extra point instead to trail 17-13. Though it seemed like serious misfortune at the time, it turned out to be a blessing. “If we had that 2-point conversion, we probably would have kicked a field goal (on the next drive),” fullback Jacobe Kendrick said. “Everything happens for a reason. This is a special team.” Before Air Force could think about overtaking Washington, its defense needed to make a stop. With 6:11 left, Air Force got the break it needed when Stanback, who finished 19-for-27 passing, couldn’t connect with Corey Williams. “I was like ‘Oh no,’” safety Bobby Giannini said of seeing the ball go to an open Williams. “When I saw it hit the ground, I knew we had it. I knew it was our game.” Carney went back in for the final drive with 5:55 left, converted a short fourth-down run with 4:01 remaining and converted two more third downs on the way to the end zone. With 41 seconds left, Carney snuck in with a pile for the last and most important of Air Force’s 425 yards. “We beat a good team, and it gives us a lot of confidence in each other,” Carney said. “The defense played outstanding. We played together, and came out with a big win. There’s nothing better than coming out with a close victory like this. It’s going to really boost us.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0258 or email@example.com NEXT San Diego State at Air Force (1-0), noon Saturday, 740 AM
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