Long before he helped the scoreboard hit rarely seen numbers, Arion Worthman’s hands wouldn’t stop shaking.
“I would probably say this was the most nervous I’ve ever been for a game,” the Air Force quarterback said. “Did I look calm?”
Worthman completed 8 of 12 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 33 yards and another score as the Falcons throttled Virginia Military Institute 62-0 in Saturday’s season opener.
The 62 points were the second-most in academy history, as was the margin of victory. The shutout was the first in six years. The total yards went 647-95 in favor of the Falcons, the lowest number they’ve given up since 1956.
The Keydets crossed midfield once on offense, thanks to a 15-yard Air Force penalty.
VMI had one play longer than 6 yards. Air Force had 16 players notch a rush or reception for 8 or more yards. Eight players scored touchdowns for the Falcons.
“They’re a much better team than we are,” VMI coach Scott Wachenheim said.
“They’re more experienced. They have 14 senior starters, eight juniors starting. They’re bigger; they’re stronger; they’re faster. They’re a better team. They’ve been running the same system on offense and defense for 30 years. They’re extremely well-coached. They were a much better football team today.”
To think, that kind of day not only started with nerves for Worthman but for a knee-knocking group that included 11 first-time starters. Then came the backups. And their backups. In all, 59 players saw action for the Falcons. Many had seen little to no previous experience behind Air Force’s record class of 32 departing seniors.
That’s the point of playing these openers against Football Championship Subdivision teams — a strategy that has brought 11 straight lopsided victories. Those jitters can be worked out on the field for everyone.
“It gets everyone acclimated to playing and knowing what they can do,” said sophomore receiver Geraud Sanders, who caught the first two passes of his career.
Both of Sanders’ receptions were in the end zone.
“For those guys to be able to gain some experience at Falcon Stadium, there will be a point where they’ll benefit and our team will really prosper, too,” said coach Troy Calhoun, who insists on this pattern to open the season that includes this game being played during Parents Weekend. “Hopefully that means a good bit to the families there are here, because ultimately I think anybody who comes to school at the Air Force Academy knows their upbringing had an awful lot to do with it. That’s why it’s neat to get a couple more guys in the game.”
Tim McVey was once one of those players making his offensive debut in mop-up time during the opener. On Saturday he scored his 27th touchdown in his 28th career game. McVey ran for 98 yards and a score on 10 carries and caught three passes for 77 yards.
“He does Tim McVey things,” Worthman said.
Perhaps the most important development from Saturday, Worthman said, wasn’t that his hands eventually mellowed. But his body, and those of his teammates, were fully intact when it was done. In fact, he didn’t even see the field in the second half after building an early 35-0 lead.
A trip to Michigan awaits after next week’s oddly early bye, opening a four-week onslaught in which the Falcons may be an underdog each time.
“That was the goal — get the win and come out healthy,” the junior quarterback said. “That’s what I’m excited about, I’m glad we’ll go into Michigan pretty healthy.”