Air Force uses triple-option ground game to soar past Bulldogs

Fresno State senior safety Stratton Brown chases down Air Force running back Tim McVey. [Fresno State Athletics]

By Daniel Leon | Editor

In their first game since the firing of head coach Tim DeRuyter, the Bulldogs showed some promise and remained competitive for much of the game – but their inability to finish continued to haunt them as they dropped their seventh-straight game, falling to Air Force 31-21 Friday night at Bulldog Stadium.

“I give a lot of credit to our players, I thought they played extremely hard,” Bulldogs interim head coach Eric Kiesau said after the game. “We just didn’t make enough plays on offense, we had a couple critical errors and you can’t do that when you’re playing a good football team. [I give] a lot of credit to Air Force, they came out and ran the ball really well. It was a hard-fought game. I thought our players played extremely hard and I’m very proud of that, we just came up short. We have to make some corrections and keep pounding away and keep working.”

The Bulldogs clung onto a 21-17 lead entering the fourth quarter before Air Force backup quarterback Arion Worthman helped the Falcons come back, leading a pair of scoring drives to take the lead and ultimately seal the game.

Worthman, who racked up 102 rushing yards on 20 attempts for two scores, was forced into action midway through the third quarter after starting quarterback Nate Romine left the game to injury.

“In my entire career, whenever the backup comes in, it’s never good because he just lets it rip and has fun,” Kiesau said. “He’s coming off the bench so he has nothing to lose, everything to gain. But that’s a lot of credit to him, he did a great job. He executed their [triple option] offense really well.”

In the first half, Fresno State jumped out to a 14-0 lead behind a pair of touchdown passes from Chason Virgil to KeeSean Johnson but Air Force responded late in the half with a 33-yard touchdown pass from Romine running back Tim McVey, who found his way to the end zone to make it 14-7 at half.

The Bulldogs lost the lead with just over eight minutes in the third when linebacker Patrick Healy picked off Virgil and returned it 35 yards to give the Falcons the 17-14 lead.

Fresno State retook the lead after another bomb from Virgil to Johnson, this time from 52-yards out to put the ‘Dogs up 21-17 midway through the third period.

Virgil completed 18-of-37 passes for 303 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions with two of them a result of tipped passes.

Johnson recorded a career night, catching 10 passes for 142 yards and three scores.

“It definitely feels good, but it would’ve felt better with a win,” Johnson said about his three-touchdown performance. “I just wanted to come out and help my team as much as I could. That’s just the main thing each week for me – to do what I can to help the team win.”

The Bulldogs drop to 1-8 overall, 0-5 in Mountain West play and have yet to win a game against a Power Five opponent this season.

“We were talking about relentless effort all week in practice and there’s a big buy-in factor right now,” Kiesau said. “I know the points and the score aren’t there but that’ll come. I believe that and these kids believe that. They’ll come back, work hard and be ready for another week of practice.”


• KeeSean Johnson surpassed 100 yards for the first time in his career, totaling 142 yards; the yardage mark was the most by a Bulldog since Aaron Peck topped out at 194 on Oct. 8, 2016.

• Jamire Jordan (115) and KeeSean Johnson (142) are the first Fresno State WR duo to have 100-yard games since Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse (Dec. 7, 2013).

• KeeSean Johnson’s career-high three touchdowns were the most in a single game by a Bulldog since Davante Adams on Nov. 29, 2013 vs. San Jose State.

• Chason Virgil threw for 300 yards (303) for the first time in his career; it was the first game Fresno State went over the 300-yard passing mark this season. It was the first time a Bulldog quarterback went over the 300-yard mark since Brian Burrell on Dec. 6, 2014 vs. Boise State.

• Fresno State had six chunk plays in the game (all passing); that number surpasses five collected in the two previous games combined.

• The four interceptions were the most in a game for Fresno State since Aug. 30, 2014; it was the most by an individual since Dec. 2, 2006 (Tom Brandstater).

• Stratton Brown’s 15 tackles were a career-high, matching Jeff Camilli’s team-high of 15 set vs. Tulsa on Sept. 24.

• Fresno State’s two leading tacklers surpassed double-digit tackles; Stratton Brown has done so in five of the last seven games, and Jeff Camilli has done so in six of the last eight games he has played.

• Fresno State was held to 37 yards rushing, its second-lowest total this season. The Bulldogs have been held under 100 yards rushing five times in 2016.

• The last interception returned for a touchdown against Fresno State was on Nov. 15, 2015 at BYU.

• Robert Stanley set a career-high with 11 tackles.

• Trent Soechting set a career-high with 10 tackles.

• Fresno State was 7-of-14 on third downs.

• Air Force posted 23 first downs to the Bulldogs’ 18.

• Fresno State was outscored 24-7 in the second half; Fresno State was outscored 21-6 in the second half last week at Utah State.