COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Sophomore quarterback Isaiah Sanders rushed for 196 yards and three touchdowns to lead Air Force to a come-from-behind 38-35 win over visiting Utah State in the regular season finale.
The Air Force rushing attack ran for 407 yards and coverted 11 third downs on its way to its fifth win of the season. Jacob Stafford was the only other Falcon with over 100 rushing yards (112).
Utah State jumped out to a quick 14-3 lead thanks to a 71-yard touchdown run by Aaren Vaughns and a 75-yard touchdown run by Gerold Bright. But it seemed as though the Aggies took the foot off the pedal as Air Force went to work.
Air Force's Tim McVey scored from two yards out to make it a 14-10 game.
Utah State responded with an 11-yard touchdown run by LaJuan Hunt Jr. to make it 21-10. However, Air Force used an 11-play, 91-yard drive to end the first half that was capped off by a 2-yard touchdown run from Sanders to make it a 21-17 ball game.
Out of halftime, Sanders led an eight-play, 80-yard drive that was capped off with a 4-yard touchdown run, giving the Falcons their first lead of the game.
The Aggies responded with its own 99-yard drive as quarterback Jordan Love found Ron'quavion Tarver for a 24-yard touchdown pass, giving the Aggies the lead back at 28-24 with 12:54 to play.
A Utah State fumble recoved by the Falcons in the end zone with 9:24 left to play gave Air Force a 31-28 lead. But Love found Tarver again for a 22-yard touchdown pass as Utah State went up 35-31 with 5:28 to play.
Unfortunately for the Aggies, Sanders wasn't done. Air Force went 75 yards in 3:50, with Sanders finding the end zone from 10 yards out to put the Falcons ahead for good.
Aggie defense struggled with the Air Force rushing attack
Utah State head coach Matt Wells knew that the Air Force rushing attack was good. In fact he said, "They're averaging over 300 yards on the ground, which is typical for an Air Force team and very normal."
Running the football is exactly what the Falcons did on Saturday night despite falling behind by 11 points midway through the first quarter. Sanders continued to pound away at the Aggie defense and the bend-but-not-break defensive scheme didn't work against Air Force.
Sanders found the end zone three times and McVey found it the other time as Air Force racked up 407 yards rushing. The Falcons were 11-of-20 on third down and five-of-six inside the red zone.
Keep the foot on the pedal
Utah State went up 14-3 in the first quarter in just five plays. The first score came on the fourth play of the drive and the second score came on the very first play of the drive. The scoring took 2:01.
But then the offense went flat as the Aggies had two punts and didn't convert on fourth down over their next three drives while Air Force was pounding away at the Utah State defense.
The Aggies got some mojo back on a six-play, 48-yard drive capped off by the LaJuan Hunt Jr. touchdown run. But the next three possessions resulted in punts.
When a team like Air Force is down, you have to keep them down and unfortunately, the Aggies didn't accomplish that.
Sanders is very good ... going to his right
It seemed like Air Force found something that worked and stuck with it the entire game. Head coach Troy Calhoun continued to pound away at the right side of the USU defense and it led to a career day for Sanders. The sophomore quarterback carried the ball 44 times on his way to 196 yards and three touchdown.
The Utah State defense struggled to tackle and didn't make the necessary adjustments and Sanders took advantage of the opportunity. The 44 rushing attempts by Sanders set the Air Force record for most rushes in a game. The previous high was 42 by Brian Bream.
Utah State now awaits the bowl selection process. The Aggies finish the regular season 6-6 and 4-4 in Mountain West Conference play. The loss to Air Force marked the first conference loss on the road in 2017 for the Aggies.
Kyle McDonald is sports fan who loves the Chicago Cubs. Follow him on Twitter at @kylesportsbias
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