Morning had barely broken when the Air Force Falcons gathered for breakfast at 6:15 a.m. Saturday. An early start isn’t unusual for academy cadets, but coach Fisher DeBerry needed to make sure his team was awake and alert for a 10a.m. kickoff against UNLV. So after breakfast was done, when DeBerry would customarily give a motivational speech, he instead let his whistle do the talking. “I jumped up and blew my whistle and I blew it loud and I blew it a bunch of times,” DeBerry said. “I said ‘Wake up, wake up, by gosh, it’s time to go to work!’” In need of a wakeup call to save their season from slipping away, the Falcons took the message to heart and pounded UNLV 42-7. For all the motivational tactics DeBerry has employed this season trying to reverse a losing streak that reached four games, none was more metaphorical or more effective. As the Falcons squandered a promising 2-0 start to this season by losing the next four games, they began to take on the look of a team that could play well enough to be competitive but would ultimately make too many mistakes to win. But before a crowd of 30,573 at Falcon Stadium, Air Force was opportunistic on offense, dominant on defense and put away UNLV with key plays on special teams. Air Force moved to 3-4, 2-3 in the Mountain West. UNLV fell to 2,5, 1-3. “We’ve had a lot of learning experiences this year, and we just wanted to come out and play a good game,” receiver Jason Brown said. “I don’t know about relief, but there’s definitely excitement because we wanted to win so bad.” Any thoughts of Air Force suffering a hangover from its crushing 27-24 loss to Navy in the final second last week were washed away with four rushing touchdowns by quarterback Shaun Carney and a defense that limited UNLV to 217 yards. Though the Falcons weren’t perfect, giving UNLV some early opportunities by losing three fumbles, they seemed able to do whatever they wanted against the hapless Rebels. After preserving a 21-7 halftime lead when cornerback Chris Sutton intercepted UNLV’s Jarrod Jackson in the end zone, the Falcons scored on their first two drives of the second half to end any thought of a comeback. “What’s happened here in the last month is very uncharacteristic of Falcon football, but I’ve never been more determined in my life to try to help these guys,” DeBerry said. “It’s nothing I magically did but just lead them in the right direction to stay positive and continue to believe in themselves, and I knew in time it would come. I certainly don’t think this is the last one” Air Force’s coaches did play an important role, however, giving the Falcons an aggressive game plan on both sides of the ball. Knowing UNLV defensive coordinator Vic Shealy would have the inside track on the Falcons’ offense — Shealy was Air Force’s secondary coach the past six seasons — the Falcons introduced several new formations into their offense, using three and four receivers stacked to one side. The Falcons came out throwing short passes early, which helped open up the inside running lanes for fullback Ryan Williams (13 carries, 73 yards) and Carney, who ran for 83 yards and threw for 74. The Falcons finished with a season-high 316 rushing yards. Air Force’s defense also gave UNLV some new looks and pressured Jackson, who was sacked five times. UNLV’s touchdown came on a halfback pass in the second quarter to pull within 14-7. “Playing Vic Shealy, we knew we had to throw some new wrinkles at them,” Carney said. “He knows our offense, and (offensive coordinator Chuck Petersen) told us, ‘Let’s go out and have some fun, play like we used to play in the backyard.’” The game at times was as sloppy as backyard football. In addition to two interceptions and 13 penalties, UNLV’s special teams struggled all game with a blocked punt and two fumbles on kickoffs. On the kickoff after Carney’s 11-yard touchdown to take a 7-0 lead, Mark Carlson and Nathan Smith jarred the ball loose from Ronnie Smith and recovered the fumble, giving the Falcons’ offense another chance from the 16-yard line. Two plays later, the Falcons had a 14-0 lead. “Air Force played great,” UNLV coach Mike Sanford said. “We didn’t do the things we needed to do to win. We didn’t play well on offense, we didn’t play good enough on defense and we had stupid plays and turnovers on special teams.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0258 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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