AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — After a promising start, the incessant, pounding rushing attack of Air Force proved to be too much for Nicholls State.
Jacobi Owens rushed for 233 yards in his Air Force debut and Devin Rushing scored two short touchdowns, helping the Falcons beat the visiting Colonels 44-16 on Saturday and drop Nicholls’ record against FBS opponents to 3-21.
It was the Falcons’ 19th straight win over a team from the Football Championship Subdivision.
Nicholls forced Air Force to punt on its first two possessions before Weston Steelhammer sacked Colonels quarterback Kalen Henderson in the end zone for a safety. After a sub-par punt by Nicholls, the Falcons made it 9-0 on a Garrett Brown 5-yard run.
“We are going to have to throw it to get it out of there, because I didn’t feel like we could run it out of there on them,” Nicholls coach Charlie Stubbs said. “We just hesitated on it, and they got a nice safety. They got great field position, took it down and wow.”
The Colonels rebounded to tie the game 9-9 with 13:20 left in the second quarter after Tobias Lofton ran untouched into the end zone from 18 yards out and Francisco Condado booted a 37-yard field goal.
It was as close as the Colonels would get.
Air Force used its methodical ground game to reel off the next 35 points and build a 44-9 lead midway through the fourth quarter. The Falcons finished with 539 yards rushing, the team’s highest total since 2011.
“They got out on the perimeter on us with those pitches on the option and got us out in space,” Stubbs said. “When you get defenders out in space, you’ve got to be tremendous tacklers and be able to get off blocks. We weren’t able to do that.”
Henderson, who led the Colonels to a victory over Western Michigan last year, was held to 136 yards passing and was sacked four times. An inability to finish drives plagued Nicholls, and Henderson felt his squad could have kept the game closer in the first half.
“We did leave a lot of points out on the field, I think at least two touchdowns,” Henderson said. “I don’t think anything they did took us out of our game. We were still having some good drives, but it was just one or two plays on each drive that were just making us sputter a bit.”
The Colonels lost starting center Brandon Holmes to an injury earlier in the week in practice, and Stubbs said backup Ashton Duhe suffered a broken hand in the first half that took him out of the game. Third-string Brian Hernandez, a true freshman, was called upon to help direct Nicholls’ offense.
“We’re battered and bruised,” Stubbs said. “Making all of those calls against all of those fronts, I commend that young man, because the (Duhe injury) happened before halftime.”
Owens’ output was the most ever by a Falcons player making his first start, breaking the mark of 218 set by Cody Getz in 2012. It’s also the seventh-most yards in a game all-time at a school known for its vaunted ground game.
The Falcons improved to 8-0 in openers under coach Troy Calhoun, who earned his 50th career win at the Academy.
Garrett Brown, Broam Hart, Shayne Davern and Paco Solano also scored TDs for the Falcons. Davern is making the switch from linebacker to fullback this season.
The Colonels added another touchdown in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter when backup QB Beaux Hebert connected with Darryl Watson II for a 10-yard score.
Nicholls has a difficult start to its season, playing five of its first six games on the road.
“We’ve got our boat loaded, because we’ve got Arkansas next week,” Stubbs said. “It doesn’t get any easier for us. If we can weather the storm, I really think we can get in the hunt in the Southland Conference.”