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Arion Worthman presents Air Force with difficult decision at quarterback

October 30, 2016 Updated: October 31, 2016 at 9:26 am
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Air Force's Arion Worthman is about to pitch to Tim McVey during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Fresno State in Fresno, Calif., Friday, Oct. 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)

Arion Worthman's most ardent supporter summarized his situation six months before it came to a head on Friday night.

"Your main objective is to make the decisions difficult for the coaches," said Antoine Worthman, Arion's father and a 10-year veteran of the Arena and Canadian leagues after watching Air Force's spring scrimmage.

Mission accomplished.

Worthman, Air Force's backup sophomore quarterback, did a lot more than run for 102 yards in a quarter and a half in a 31-21 victory over Fresno State that he entered with the Falcons trailing by three points. He injected life - and speed - into an offense that had begun to spin its wheels in dropping three straight as heavy favorites and then trailing a struggling Bulldogs squad that has now dropped seven in a row.

"Speed and some strength," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. "Sometimes the pile was able to move a little bit, too.

"You watch the way the progress he made throughout the spring and the month of August, too; he's made good strides," Calhoun added. "He's a solid player. We knew he was going to be a good contributor for us. It's just a little bit difficult to predict when, when you're the backup quarterback."

The opportunity came when Nate Romine went down with what appeared to be an ankle injury after a 2-yard gain with 6 minutes, 19 seconds remaining in the third quarter at Bulldog Stadium.

"Nate just went down and the whole sideline went kind of silent and then you just hear, 'Two, two,' and I knew it was my time to go," Worthman said.

And off he went. The 5-foot-11 Worthman opened with runs of 9 and 8 yards. He later had bursts of 23 and 12 yards. He faked a pitch before turning a run toward the goal line. Defenders had no choice but to crash on him, opening the door for a 17-yard gain on an option to Tyler Williams and 20 on another for Ronald Cleveland.

If there were nerves, the sophomore hid them.

"I've been playing football my whole life," Worthman said. "It's still 11 on 11. The game's faster, guys are bigger, faster, stronger but I trusted my teammates, they trusted me and I thought we executed well and we were able to win today."

Worthman does have a history of this. He accounted for 5,794 yards of offense over his final two years of high school in Normal, Ill. He tossed 46 touchdowns, ran for 41 and then committed to Air Force over Army and several Ivy League teams. With Romine out in spring football while recovering from knee surgery, Worthman overtook senior Pate Davis and classmate Ryan Brand, a once-touted recruit, to become the clear No. 2 quarterback.

Now, that line between No. 1 and 2 is no longer clear.

Romine jogged a bit on the sideline before donning an ankle boot and a slight limp after the game. On first glance, the injury did not appear serious and Calhoun said he "possibly" could have returned. Romine, thanks to a medical turnback, has another year of eligibility remaining after this one. He's thrown for 2,160 yards (13th in program history) and rushed for 689. Even on Friday, the 123 yards Romine accounted for in 18 attempts ­­- 97 through the air, 26 on the ground - were more than the 102 from Worthman in 20 touches.

This is clearly not a player the Falcons will lightly toss aside. But, on the other hand, the electricity once Worthman took over was obvious to anyone watching.

"I think it might make us a little more dynamic in terms of the quarterback actually being a threat when run the ball," tailback Jacobi Owens said. "I'm not saying Nate wasn't, but, I mean, you saw Arion today. With that, it's going to make us a better team."

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