AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Finally given the opportunity to separate himself from the other Air Force tailbacks, Anthony LaCoste ran with it.
And ran and ran and ran.
LaCoste rushed for a career-high 263 yards and scored three touchdowns, helping the Falcons snap a seven-game skid by holding off Army 42-28 on Saturday.
It was the second-most yards rushing for a program that's known for its ground game. He was just shy of the school record held by Chad Hall, who had 275 yards against Army in 2007.
The elusive LaCoste also had long TD runs of 73 and 78 yards, along with a 1-yard burst early in the fourth quarter to give the Falcons (2-7) a two-touchdown lead over the Black Knights (3-6).
"It was a beautiful day for football and I just went off," LaCoste said, smiling.
LaCoste has had quite a roller-coaster career, tearing his ACL his sophomore year and being switched to defensive back last season.
Returned to tailback this season, he's been splitting carries with a host of other runners. He made a compelling case for even more action as he shattered his previous career-best of 109 yards set against San Diego State on Oct. 10.
"I want to be the feature back," LaCoste said. "I've been waiting for my opportunity to make it happen."
In an injury-filled season that's spiraled downward for Air Force, beating a fellow service academy eases some of the sting.
A lot of it, actually.
"This is the best 2-7 has ever felt, I'm sure," Falcons safety Christian Spears said. "To get a win, get it here at home and against Army, it's an amazing feeling."
This was a costly loss for the Black Knights in their quest for the Commander in Chief's Trophy. Even if they were to beat Navy in the season finale next month, the Midshipmen will retain the crown, courtesy of being the defending champions and having already beaten the Falcons earlier this season. A three-way tie keeps the trophy with the past winner.
"They do some things that are tough on your eyes, and we didn't handle that well," Army coach Rich Ellerson said. "We practiced for it, but we didn't handle it."
"This is a big rival, so it definitely hurts," Santiago said.
Down 35-21 midway through the final quarter, Army caught a break when Falcon returner Garrett Brown muffed a punt. Four plays later, Baggett scored on a 10-yard run to trim the deficit.
But Broam Hart sealed the win -- and ended the team's longest losing streak since 1979 -- on a 3-yard scamper with 3:41 remaining.
The Black Knights struggled on special teams as kicker Daniel Grochowski had a field goal blocked and missed on another. They also couldn't find a way to stop LaCoste, who averaged 11.4 yards a carry.
"He's a hard guy to get on the ground," Ellerson said.
Air Force used a big play on special teams to the swing the momentum midway in the second quarter. With Army up 14-7 and attempting a 48-yard field goal, Nick Fitzgerald stuck his hand up and blocked Grochowski's attempt. Gavin McHenry caught the ricochet on the fly and raced 24 yards to set the Falcons up good field position.
Deep in Army territory, Air Force gambled by going for it on fourth-and-2 at the 14, with Brown taking a pitch from Nate Romine and outracing the Black Knights around the corner for the game-tying score.
Soon after, Army retook the lead on Santiago's 1-yard run, his third TD of the half.
But it wouldn't last as Air Force quickly struck again, Romine rushing for a 1-yard score with 11 seconds left in the first half.
There was a scary moment just before Romine's score, when Army linebacker Julian Holloway was carted off the field with his right leg in a splint after being hurt trying to tackle LaCoste on a run up the middle. Ellerson didn't have a specific update after the game, but said Holloway would likely spend the night in Colorado Springs.
Once the final horn sounded, the Air Force cadets streamed out of the stands to celebrate with the team on the field.
"It's a horrible taste in your mouth, to have to go through losing seven games in a row," Fitzgerald said. "To win today, it brings that taste out and you get to enjoy and feel the emotion of what it feels like again to win. Not only that, but against a service academy team? I couldn't say it feels any better. "
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