Aztecs topple Falcons, 41-27

Air Force defensive back Josh Hall leads a tackle during the Falcons' match against San Diego State at Falcon Stadium Oct. 13, 2011. Hall had eight tackles, including five solo tackles, in the Falcons' 41-27 defeat. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bill Evans)

Air Force defensive back Josh Hall leads a tackle during the Falcons' match against San Diego State at Falcon Stadium Oct. 13, 2011. Hall had eight tackles, including five solo tackles, in the Falcons' 41-27 defeat. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bill Evans)

San Diego State's Brandon Davis is wrapped up by Air Force defenders during the Aztecs-Falcons game at Falcon Stadium Oct. 13, 2011. The Aztecs had 410 yards of total offense in their 41-27 victory over Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bill Evans)

San Diego State's Brandon Davis is wrapped up by Air Force defenders during the Aztecs-Falcons game at Falcon Stadium Oct. 13, 2011. The Aztecs had 410 yards of total offense in their 41-27 victory over Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bill Evans)

FALCON STADIUM, Colo. -- An Air Force defense weakened by injuries, including its entire starting defensive line, surrendered two touchdowns to one of the top running backs in the nation, falling 41-27 to San Diego State University on Oct. 14.

San Diego State running back Ronnie Hillman, who came into the game as the fifth-leading rusher in the nation with 132.2 yards per game, made the bulk of the carries for the Aztecs, rushing 27 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns.

The two teams spent the first half slugging it out to a 17-17 tie and were still stalemated at 20-all late into the third quarter until Aztec nose tackle Jerome Long forced a fumble from Falcon running back Mike DeWitt. The Aztecs recovered the loose ball in a pile of bodies and took possession at the Falcons' 28-yard line.

On the next play, Aztec senior quarterback Ryan Lindley found wide receiver Colin Lockett open on the left edge and hit him for the go-ahead score. Placekicker Abelardo Perez added the extra point to put San Diego State up 27-20.

Then it became the Ronnie Hillman show. Behind his experienced offensive line, Hillman showed both the agility to avoid tacklers and the power to blast through the line, scoring twice in the fourth quarter on runs of 22 and 57 yards to kill the clock and put San Diego State up 41-20.

Tim Jefferson hit Jonathan Warzeka for an 18-yard pass up the middle to add one more score and finish the game 41-27.

"We played a pretty good football team tonight," said Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun. "I thought we'd have to play exceptionally well. There were stretches were we did play well, but not nearly the way that you have to for a full 60 minutes."

Some of those stretches started with turnovers. The Falcons only had one interception and one fumble, but those were key turning points, Calhoun said.

"There's no doubt the turnovers were key plays. Fundamentally, there's some work that certainly has to be done," he said.

Jefferson passed for a career-high 36 times for 22 completions, two touchdowns and 224 yards. Warzeka had a career-high 96 yards receiving on seven catches.

But even these weren't enough to overcome the knowledge of San Diego State head coach Rocky Long. He might be in his first year as the Aztecs' head coach, but he's no stranger to Air Force or how to tackle the triple-option rushing attack. He was the Aztecs' defensive coordinator last season, was head coach for the New Mexico Lobos from 1998-2008 and is the second winningest coach in conference history.

"I believe it was a great win tonight, and I believe it was a total team effort," Long said. I thought the defense played extremely, well especially considering how explosive Air Force is on offense."

But despite his in-depth knowledge of how to play against the Air Force Academy, Long has always been quick to give the credit to his players.

"I don't know if Air Force's defense was quite up to its standard, but I think our offensive line was able to hold them and capitalize on mistakes made," said Long.

With the loss, the Air Force Academy's record falls to 3-3. But the Falcons are midway through the toughest stretch of their 2011 schedule, which is almost the entire month of October.

"We've run through a pretty good stretch of pretty sturdy opponents," said Coach Calhoun. "What we've got to do as a team - the biggest thing is, you've got to pull together. We've got ... a group of players and a group of coaches that will do that well. To play against talented squads, we're going to have to be really precise. I think when you play teams that have good size, that are extremely athletic, that's the way you have to play."

The need for precision and error-free football is magnified with the Falcons' next game. Air Force goes back on the road next to face new Mountain West Conference member Boise State Saturday. This will be the first matchup of the two teams, and Boise State is rolling undefeated this season at 5-0. The Broncos are ranked fifth in the nation in the Associated Press Top 25 and sixth in the USA Today Poll.

Kickoff for the game is 1:30 p.m. Mountain Time. The game will be televised on Versus Network and aired on KVOR 740 AM in Colorado Springs and KCKK 1510 AM in Denver. Falcon fans can also follow their team online by going to www.goairforcefalcons.com and clicking on "Gameday Central."