Fighting Irish take down Falcons, 45-10

Air Force junior running back Broam Hart rushes the ball for 9 yards during the second quarter of the Air Force-Notre Dame Oct. 26, 2013, at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colo. The Falcons fell to the Fighting Irish, 45-10. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sam Lee)

Air Force junior running back Broam Hart rushes the ball for 9 yards during the second quarter of the Air Force-Notre Dame Oct. 26, 2013, at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colo. The Falcons fell to the Fighting Irish, 45-10. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sam Lee)

Air Force freshman quarterback Nate Romine pitches to wide receiver Sam Gagliano during the Air Force-Notre Dame game at Falcon Stadium Oct. 26, 2013. The game marked Romine's first start at quarterback for Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sam Lee)

Air Force freshman quarterback Nate Romine pitches to wide receiver Sam Gagliano during the Air Force-Notre Dame game at Falcon Stadium Oct. 26, 2013. The game marked Romine's first start at quarterback for Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sam Lee)

Air Force sophomore tight end Garrett Griffin blocks a Notre Dame defender as senior running back Anthony LaCoste runs to the outside during the Air Force-Notre Dame game at Falcon Stadium Oct. 26, 2013. Air Force took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter but could not find the end zone again, losing 45-10 to the Fighting Irish. LaCoste had eight rushes for 54 yards. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sam Lee)

Air Force sophomore tight end Garrett Griffin blocks a Notre Dame defender as senior running back Anthony LaCoste runs to the outside during the Air Force-Notre Dame game at Falcon Stadium Oct. 26, 2013. Air Force took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter but could not find the end zone again, losing 45-10 to the Fighting Irish. LaCoste had eight rushes for 54 yards. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sam Lee)

Air Force freshman quarterback Nate Romine fakes a handoff during the Air Force-Notre Dame match at Falcon Stadium Oct. 26, 2013. The Falcons fell to the Fighting Irish, 45-10. The game marked Nate Romine's first start as quarterback. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mark Watkins)

Air Force freshman quarterback Nate Romine fakes a handoff during the Air Force-Notre Dame match at Falcon Stadium Oct. 26, 2013. The Falcons fell to the Fighting Irish, 45-10. The game marked Nate Romine's first start as quarterback. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mark Watkins)

Senior running back Anthony LaCoste breaks away from Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith during the Air Force-Notre Dame game at Falcon Stadium Oct. 26, 2013. LaCoste had eight rushes for 54 yards. (U.S. Air Force photo by Sarah Chambers)

Senior running back Anthony LaCoste breaks away from Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith during the Air Force-Notre Dame game at Falcon Stadium Oct. 26, 2013. LaCoste had eight rushes for 54 yards. (U.S. Air Force photo by Sarah Chambers)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- For the first 10 minutes, it seemed like the Falcons had finally found their mojo -- against the imposing Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, no less.

But that feeling quickly subsided when Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees aired the ball out, hitting his receivers for 331 yards and five touchdowns to hand the Falcons their sixth-straight loss on the season, 45-10.

The Irish looked set to score on the game's opening drive until running back George Atkinson III was stuffed for a loss on third and 1 at the Air Force 23. A false start penalty moved the ball back to the 29, forcing a 46-yard field goal attempt. Air Force junior Robert Green blocked Kyle Brindza's kick, giving the Falcons the ball and momentum going into their first drive.

Nate Romine made his first start for Air Force and led the Falcons on a 10-play, 71-yard drive into the Fighting Irish end zone. Falcon runners sped for the corners and turned upfield for consistent gains of 5 yards or more, including a 21-yard rush by Anthony LaCoste and a 10-yard run by Colton Huntsman to give the Falcons a 7-0 lead.

"It felt good leading 7-0," Romine said. "We came out with our hair on fire. That's the intensity we need to bring to every drive."

The teams traded possessions going into the second quarter, with Notre Dame tying the game in the first quarter and outscoring Air Force 17-3 in the second. Air Force drove 59 yards to the Notre Dame 16, but KeiVarae Russell recovered an unforced fumble by Anthony LaCoste to kill the Falcons' momentum and preserve a 24-10 lead going into halftime.

The Falcons' woes continued into the third quarter when Romine, after leading Air Force to the Notre Dame 39, lost the football. Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith recovered for the Irish. A game that Air Force could have tied at 24 suddenly looked out of the Falcons' reach as Rees and the Irish turned Romine's fumble into a 31-10 lead.

"There are plays where I could have made better decisions," he said. "That first drive in the second half, I was trying to do too much. It was just a bonehead play. There were a couple of short throws I could have made, and I made them in practice, but on Saturday, on game day, that's when you've got to make them.

"Anytime you're playing a good team, you can't make those mistakes," Romine added. "You have to keep executing and executing. ... We have to get that first down so we can build up the tempo and do what we do best."

Rees finished 17-of-22 for Notre Dame before coming out of the game in the fourth quarter. Andrew Hendrix finished for the Irish, going 1-of-4 for 47 yards and scoring the game's final touchdown on a 4-yard run.

"We knew they were going to start passing," said sophomore defensive back Gavin McHenry. "We've just got to make the play. It comes down to the defense and especially the defensive backs: being in the right place, which we were, then getting our hands up" to break up the pass.

The loss effectively ends the Falcons' hopes of a seventh-straight bowl game appearance under coach Troy Calhoun. But the youth of Air Force's roster, which has only 18 seniors, will give the Falcons some much-needed experience for the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

"When we've got everything put together, people are going to be shocked," McHenry said. "But we've got to have unity of effort for the whole game."