AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Colorado State coaches asked Jeff Babcock to send the opening kickoff of the second half through the end zone.
''I'm glad I didn't,'' Babcock said.
Air Force's Bryan Blew took Babcock's kick at the goal line and returned it to near the 30, where he fumbled.
Babcock recovered the fumble and returned it 29 yards for a rare touchdown by a placekicker as No. 24 Colorado State beat Air Force 31-12 Thursday night, the Falcons' third straight loss.
Cecil Sapp ran for 132 yards and two touchdowns as the Rams (8-2, 4-0 Mountain West) posted their fourth straight victory.
Air Force (6-3, 3-2) lost any chance of getting back into the game by failing on two fourth-down plays in the third quarter, both in Colorado State territory. On the opening kickoff of the second half, Blew fumbled when hit by David Foley. Babcock scooped up the loose ball and ran it back for a 28-12 lead.
It was the first touchdown by a Colorado State kicker since 1961.
''Scoring a touchdown was the greatest,'' Babcock said. ''The only thing that could have been better would have been kicking a game-winning field goal.
''I reached the end zone and turned, expecting to see the refs whistling the play dead and saying someone was down. I was sure something was going to happen. I didn't think that could come true.
''I was surprised the ball came out. It took the perfect bounce.''
Colorado State quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt said the Rams' sideline erupted when Babcock scored -- with laughter.
''I think our whole sideline laughed,'' Van Pelt said. ''I never saw a kicker run and score before. I don't know who teaches them.''
But Van Pelt said Babcock's score came at a critical time.
''That was really big,'' he said. ''That was the momentum shift. Who knows what would have happened if they had kept the ball and gone on and scored. It could have been a whole different game.''
Falcons coach Fisher DeBerry said he felt good about his team's chances at halftime. Then came Babcock's score.
''I don't know of a worse way in the world to start the second half,'' he said.
Babcock tacked on a 27-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter. After Babcock's touchdown, Air Force drove to the Colorado State 46, where quarterback Chance Harridge was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1.
by linebacker Adam Wade.
Babcock missed a subsequent field goal try, and Air Force again marched to the CSU 46. On fourth-and-1, Harridge was hit by linebacker Eric Pauly and fumbled at the line of scrimmage. Air Force's Darnell Stephens ran 15 yards with the fumble recovery, but the Falcons relinquished the ball because a fourth-down fumble can be recovered only by the player who fumbled.
On a frigid night that began with a temperature of 16 degrees and wind chill of 11, neither team punted until the fourth quarter, and there was only one penalty.
Colorado State outgained the Falcons 341 yards to 250. Air Force's triple option, the nation's No. 2 rushing attack, produced 221 yards rushing but only 29 passing.
''I think this was our best game all year,'' Rams coach Sonny Lubick said. ''We put it all together.''
Colorado State scored on three long drives to take a 21-6 lead late in the first half before Air Force scored just before halftime, making it 21-12.
The Rams took the opening kickoff and marched 77 yards in 15 plays, capped by Sapp's 2-yard TD run. Van Pelt passed 12 yards to Chris Pittman on third-and-10 to keep the drive alive.
Air Force promptly countered with a 60-yard, 14-play drive -- entirely on the ground. Blew returned the kickoff 31 yards to the 40. Harridge scored on fourth-and-goal from the 1, but Joey Ashcroft missed the extra point.
On Colorado State's next possession, Van Pelt completed a 19-yard pass to Joel Dreessen and a 30-yarder to Joey Cuppari, setting up Sapp's 2-yard dive with 11:59 left in the half.
Staying on the ground, Air Force drove to the Rams 31, where Alec Messerall fumbled on an end-around when hit by Dexter Wynn. The Rams' Peter Hogan recovered, setting up another CSU scoring drive.
Van Pelt hit Pittman on a 20-yard pass play, and Van Pelt ran 7 yards on a quarterback draw on fourth-and-3 from the Air Force 24. Rahsaan Sanders went the final 8 yards.
Harridge was 2-of-4 passing on Air Force's subsequent series. Harridge's 28-yard run on third down moved the Falcons to the CSU 31, and Harridge passed 13 yards to Adam Strecker for the score with 46 seconds left. Halfback Leotis Palmer was stopped short of the goal line on the 2-point conversion try.
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