AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Tommy Rees showed no signs of a strained neck that knocked him out a week ago, throwing a career-high five touchdown passes to help Notre Dame rout Air Force 45-10 on Saturday.
The senior was on target all day, completing 17 of 22 passes for 284 yards as the Fighting Irish (6-2) won their third straight. Rees now has 54 career TD passes and moves past Ron Powlus for third place in team history.
Rees was back on the field a week after leaving the game with a neck ailment in the second half of a win over USC. Rees was solid all week in practice and sensational on Saturday as he picked apart the secondary of the Falcons (1-7), who dropped their seventh straight game.
The resourceful Rees spread the ball around as he tossed TD strikes to Corey Robinson, the son of former NBA star David Robinson, William Fuller, Ben Koyack, TJ Jones and Chris Brown. It was the first time in school history the Irish have had five different receivers catch a TD pass.
So efficient was Rees that he was given the fourth quarter off, replaced by backup Andrew Hendrix with the game well in hand.
Nate Romine started for Karson Roberts at quarterback for the Falcons, becoming the fourth different signal caller the team has used this season. Romine was fourth-string out of fall camp, but moved up the depth chart due to injuries and an academic ineligibility. Roberts suffered a concussion two weeks ago against San Diego State, but recently returned to practice. He entered the game in the fourth quarter in relief of Romine.
At times, Romine effectively ran the triple-option attack of Air Force, gashing Notre Dame’s defense for big gains. But the Falcons fumbled the ball away twice inside Notre Dame territory, thwarting promising drives with the game still close.
The loss ended any chance of Air Force becoming bowl eligible for a seventh straight season under coach Troy Calhoun.
Air Force scored first when Colton Huntsman took a pitch from Romine and scrambled in from 10 yards out. Notre Dame answered right back, with Rees finding Robinson and then Fuller to give the Irish a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. It was the first career TD reception for both Robinson and Fuller.
Right before halftime, the Falcons had a chance to slice into the lead, but Anthony LaCoste fumbled inside the red zone and KeiVarae Russell recovered the ball to preserve a 24-10 lead.
On the opening drive to start the second half, Romine led the Falcons down the field only to lose the ball as he scrambled away from pressure. Jaylon Smith scooped it up and raced 62 yards for what appeared to be a score, but officials ruled it an incomplete pass and blew the play dead. After a brief review, the call was reversed to a fumble, though, with Notre Dame getting the ball at the 38.
It didn’t take long for Rees to capitalize as he found Jones for his fourth TD of the game, matching the total he had against Air Force on Oct. 8, 2011, and again on Oct. 30, 2010, versus Tulsa.
He set a new personal-best on the next drive with a 30-yard pass to Brown in the corner of the end zone.
Rees is the fourth Notre Dame quarterback to throw 50 or more TDs, joining Powlus (52), Jimmy Clausen (60) and Brady Quinn (95).
This also was the 20th win of Rees’ career, tying him with Joe Theismann and John Lujack for ninth most for a starting QB in Notre Dame history.