Falcon Ground Game Carries Air Force To Win Over Utah State

Sep 15, 2023, 9:13 PM | Updated: Sep 16, 2023, 3:06 pm

LOGAN, Utah – The Air Force rushing attack dominated Utah State’s defense in the opening half, leading to a convincing 39-21 Falcon win.

Utah State may be coming back to Logan with a quarterback controversy after freshman McCae Hillstead took over for Cooper Legas early in the second quarter on Friday, September 15.

RELATED: McCae Hillstead In At Quarterback For Utah State In Second Quarter

Hillstead completed 67 percent (18-of-27) of his passes, throwing the first three touchdowns of his Aggie career. His poise helped stabilize an inconsistent Utah State offense.

Terrell Vaughn caught six passes for 61 yards and a touchdown. Micah Davis, Jalen Royals, and Broc Lane caught four passes each with Royals and Davis finding the end zone. Rahsul Faison proved the most explosive running back for the Aggies, gaining 40 yards on seven carries.

Sophomores Cole Joyce and Ike Larsen had 11 tackles each with Joyce picking up the loan Aggie sack.

First Quarter

Davon Booth started in the backfield for Utah State with Robert Briggs unavailable. A pair of incomplete passes led to a three-and-out on the games first possession.

True to form, Air Force took over after a 38-yard Stephen Kotsanlee punt and ran nine plays before Zac Larriar threw his first pass. The Falcons picked up their fourth first down of the drive on a completion to Dane Kinamon. Three plays later, Emmanuel Michel plowed through the USU defense for a touchdown. Michel added a two-point conversion after back-to-back Aggie penalties on the PAT. The Falcons burned 6:57 of game time before taking an early 8-0 lead.

RELATED: Offensive Success Starts Up Front As Utah State Prepares For Air Force

Following a PJ Ramsey sack on first down, Utah State committed the game’s first turnover when Alec Mock knocked the ball free after getting to Legas. Air Force took over at the Aggie 11 yard line. A four-yard Larriar scoring run around the right side gave the Falcons a 15-0 lead with 5:17 left in the quarter.

Rahsul Faison’s ten yard gain on first down gave Utah State their first positive play of the game. The positivity didn’t last as USU punted after a Legas overthrew Jalen Royals on the first deep strike attempt of the evening.

RELATED: Handling Adversity Gives Utah State Chance To Get Better

Larriar caught the Aggie secondary napping late in the quarter, hitting Jared Roznos for a 49-yard gain to put the Falcons in the red zone. Michel finished the drive with his second touchdown of the evening.

Utah State had five yards of total offense in the opening 15 minutes.

Second Quarter

Utah State’s offense began to find some rhythm with back-to-back completions but Falcon linebacker Johnathan Youngblood made a one-handed interception to end the drive.

Two straight 20+-yard gains put the Falcons in the red zone for the fourth time in the first half. John Lee Eldridge III punctuated the drive with a 13-yard gallop into the end zone for a 29-0 lead.

In a surprise move, Aggie head coach and play-caller Blake Anderson left Legas on the sideline, instead calling on freshman QB McCae Hillstead. Hillstead went 2-of-4 on his first drive after taking his first college snaps a week prior against Idaho State.

After the USU defense forced a punt, the ground game got the offense into the red zone. With first-and-goal from the one, the Aggies came up short on four straight snaps but a face mask penalty gave Utah State another scoring chance. Hillstead capped the drive, finding Terrell Vaughn for a two-yard touchdown. It was Vaughn’s fourth TD catch of the season.

RELATED: Hillstead Connects With Terrell Vaughn For First Utah State Touchdown

Air Force closed the half with a 49-yard Matthew Dapore field goal to take a 32-7 halftime lead.

Third Quarter

Anderson called for a surprise onside kick to begin the second half but the Falcons recovered. Michel finished a 10-play, 46-yard drive with his third rushing touchdown of the night.

The Falcons finished the touchdown drive having run 35 plays in USU territory compared to 29 total plays run by the Aggies.

RELATED: Jalen Royals Finds End Zone As Utah State Fights Against Air Force

Hillstead appeared to find a rhythm on the next drive, completing 5-of-7 passes on the Aggies second touchdown drive of the evening. Hillstead found Royals from nine yards out for each player’s second TD of the season.

After an Air Force punt, two Falcon penalties helped Utah State to drive into enemy territory. Hillstead hit Broc Lane for four yards on fourth-and-three for a first down to end the third quarter.

USU outgained Air Force 103 yards to 54 yards in the quarter.

Fourth Quarter

Air Force’s defensive pressure kept Hillstead on his heels most of the night, forcing a USU punt after sacking the freshman three times on the drive.

On the next Aggie drive, Hillstead hit Micah Davis down the sideline for 31 yards to put USU in the red zone. Four plays later Hillstead connected with Davis against for the receivers second touchdown of the year from six yards out. USU trailed 39-21 after the extra point.

Air Force took possession with 8:43 left and methodically picked up a series of first downs while burning clock. USU chose not to use their final two timeouts as the Falcons ran out the clock to win 39-21.

Following The Aggies With KSL Sports Zone

Utah State returns to Logan where they will host the James Madison Dukes at Maverik Stadium on Saturday, September 23. This will be the first meeting between James Madison and the Aggies. USU will complete a two-game series with the Dukes when they travel to Harrisonburg, Virginia in 2025.

Utah State football games are found on KSL Sports Zone with Scott Garrard and former Aggie quarterback Kevin White (1988-89) on the call.

KSL Sports coverage of Utah State University Athletics can be found here. 

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Falcon Ground Game Carries Air Force To Win Over Utah State