AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Just in time for their showdowns with two ranked opponents, the Air Force Falcons have a new wrinkle to their ball-control offense: the quick strike.
They unveiled their alter ego Saturday night in a 38-17 romp over Colorado State when freshman Asher Clark raced for touchdowns of 41 and 45 yards and Tim Jefferson hit Kyle Halderman with a 74-yard touchdown pass as the Falcons improved to 5-0 under their freshman quarterback.
"Everyone knows that Air Force can pound the ball and run off time," Halderman said. "But it helps when you know that when you need a score, you have that big play. And players can go out there and have fun and make plays all around instead of just pounding it 2 yards a pop."
Jefferson, who accumulated 171 yards and two TDs on 6-for-8 passing, said this newly discovered big play potential has two big benefits: it keeps defenses guessing and the Falcons' linemen from getting gassed.
"In our offense we definitely need the quick strike because it takes something off the offensive line," Jefferson said. "They're grinding every single play and it can wear them down."
The Falcons (8-2, 5-1 Mountain West), who host No. 15 BYU next week and finish up at No. 12 TCU, broke open a close game with two touchdowns in a span of 2:08 in the third quarter.
Clark's career-long 45-yard scamper gave the Falcons a 28-17 lead and came on the heels of linebacker Ken Lamendola's interception of Billy Farris at the Air Force 20-yard line that squelched the Rams' promising opening drive.
Then, cornerback Reggie Rembert picked off Farris' underthrown pass at the Rams 27 and returned it to the 9. Three plays later, Jefferson hit tight end Travis Dekker from 4 yards out to make it 35-17.
Ryan Harrison made it 38-17 with a 27-yard field goal, his school record 20th of the season, and the Falcons returned to their clock-eating ways when they regained possession with 9:21 remaining and ate up the rest of the clock.
The Rams (4-6, 2-4) began to fall apart when Farris' delay of game infraction late in the first half negated Gartrell Johnson's 1-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal. The 5-yard penalty forced the Rams to settle for Jason Smith's chip-shot field goal that pulled Colorado State to 21-17 at halftime.
Rams coach Steve Fairchild said that flag wasn't the key play, although players on both sides thought so.
"No. That's just one bonehead play," Fairchild said. "Yeah, it would have been nice to ram that ball in there and have a tie."
Fairchild said Farris got the call in time.
"I think he just didn't look at the time clock. Usually a quarterback is aware of that and can rush in and get it in. I thought he was going to rush it and get it off. By the time I realized what was happening I couldn't get to an official and call a timeout," Fairchild said. "That play wasn't the outcome."
But it did rattle the Rams and favor the Falcons.
"A stupid mistake," Farris called it. "I should have gotten the play off sooner. I didn't realize how little time on the clock there was. A stupid mistake. I don't know how much it took out of the team [but] we didn't do what we wanted to do after that."
The Rams never recovered.
"That was pretty crucial," receiver Dion Morton said. "That was dumb on our parts. That was bad clock management. It hurt us. The touchdown would have provided us with a confidence booster. The penalty seemed to take something out of us."
And it provided a boost for the Falcons.
"That gave us momentum," Lamendola said.
The Falcons needed just 10 seconds to break a 14-14 tie when Jefferson recognized the safeties biting down and hit Halderman in stride for a 74-yard TD between defenders Jake Galusha and Elijah-Blu Smith.
The Falcons also scored a touchdown on fourth down in the first half, only this one was a 41-yard run by Clark, who took Jefferson's perfectly timed pitch on fourth-and-3 and raced down the Rams' sideline to put Air Force on top 14-7.
"When you get less conservative with the game calling, you get more confidence," Jefferson said. "Coach let us open it up a little bit and he let us show what we can do. So, hopefully, in the upcoming weeks we can do that some more, because we're probably going to have to."