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By DOUG ALDEN AP Sports Writer
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Air Force linebacker Drew Fowler was surprised when Utah didn't just try a quarterback sneak from the 1-yard line.
The Utes went with a handoff instead and Fowler was right there to stop Darryl Poston on fourth-and-goal with 1:05 remaining to seal Air Force's 20-12 win on Saturday -- the Falcons' first in the series since 2002.
No play was bigger than the one Fowler made at the end, with Utah a touchdown and 2-point conversion away from tying it.
Air Force had just stopped Utah on third down from the 1 on a trick play that fooled nobody. The Falcons sniffed out the direct snap to Eddie Wide.
With one more chance, Fowler expected 6-foot-7 quarterback Tommy Grady to try to get the ball across. But Grady handed the ball to Poston, who tried to leap over a huge pile of linemen and was met in the air by Fowler.
"When I first lined up, I thought 'He's a big boy -- and long,"' Fowler said of Grady. "But they handed it off and it just worked in our favor."
That's a new twist for Air Force (2-0, 1-0 Mountain West), which had lost to Utah (0-2, 0-1) by three points or less three times in the last four years.
"That defensive stand at the end was such a boost for the confidence of this team. It's something we can lean on," said Troy Calhoun, who remained unbeaten in his first season as Air Force's coach.
Shaun Carney ran for 113 yards and passed for 56 more for Air Force. Jim Ollis and Savier Stephens both ran for touchdowns and Ryan Harrison kicked two field goals for the Falcons, who scored 17 in the second half and won it with the clutch defense in the fourth quarter.
Air Force pressured Grady, making his first college start in place of the injured Brian Johnson, and intercepted him twice. Grady finished 20-for-39 for 240 yards and a touchdown.
"We made improvements, but we've got to get better. You won't win scoring 12 points," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
In two games, the Utes have rushed for 91 total yards and are off to their first 0-2 start since they opened the 2000 season by losing four in a row. With No. 13 UCLA coming to Salt Lake City next week, 0-3 looks very possible.
Air Force, meanwhile, is alone in first place in the Mountain West after winning the early league opener by atoning for any mistakes on offense with a great game by the defense.
Air Force went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Utah 47 and lost a yard, but Chris Thomas got the ball right back for the Falcons on the next play when he made a diving interception on a soft pass by Grady.
On first down, Carney kept the ball on an option and broke it for a 53-yard run. Ollis scored two plays later on a 3-yard run to give the Falcons a 17-6 lead with 12:52 left in the game.
"The maturity was a big deal on our side," Calhoun said.
Utah lost receiver Brent Casteel for the season when he injured his left knee in the first half. The Utes had already lost running back Matt Asiata in the season opener with a broken leg. Johnson is out for at least a few more weeks with a separated shoulder.
That leaves the offense to Grady, who gave Utah its first touchdown on a 34-yard pass to Derrek Richards with 6:24 left in the game to get the Utes within 17-12. Utah went for the 2-point conversion, but Thomas broke through the line and sacked Grady.
Grady took the Utes down the field again late in the quarter and Utah could have tied it with a touchdown and a conversion, but Air Force came up with the two stops at the goal line.
Ryan Harrison kicked two field goals for Air Force and Louie Sakoda matched it with two field goals for Utah.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-09-08-07 2136MDT