The lasting vision of Air Force’s home season opener will likely be Kale Pearson riding off on a cart, the starting quarterback potentially finished for the season after a second-quarter injury.
Everything else went pretty well to plan Saturday. The Falcons overcame some early jitters to throttle Colgate 38-13, running for 407 yards against the Football Championship Subdivision opponent from New York.
The big news, however, was Pearson riding away with a towel over his head and a hand covering the expression on the face of a player who earned the opportunity to lead the team but may have seen that ripped away before the first half was finished.
Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh said Pearson likely suffered a torn ACL in his right knee. Coach Troy Calhoun wasn’t ready to provide a diagnosis and cautioned against assuming the worst.
“You’re involved in sports in a very combative and physical activity,” said Calhoun, offering no emotion on the potential loss.
Pearson was hit on a 9-yard run on a third-and-5 play with about 2:30 remaining in the first half. Colgate defender Kris Kent made the tackle, hitting Pearson squarely on his right hip. His leg appeared to briefly catch on the turf, with the knee slightly buckling.
Pearson stayed on the ground for several minutes before being helped off the field. He was examined on the sideline before being carted to the locker room.
He was walking after the game but with the leg tightly supported.
Pearson was in the game long enough to guide Air Force to a lead after a rough start.
Colgate dominated the first quarter, outgaining the Falcons 113-49 and nearly doubling the hosts’ time of possession. The Raiders scored on a 15-yard completion from Gavin McCarney to Kevin O’Connell to go up 7-0.
“For me it was jitters, for sure,” Air Force linebacker Joey Nichol said. “We’ll be more calmed and composed. With this being Falcon Stadium, Parents Weekend and all that, that’s what got us the first drive.”
Air Force punted on its first two occasions and was facing a third down and 8 when Pearson hit Myles Barnes for a 20-yard gain. Five plays and 55 yards later, Air Force tied the game.
The onslaught didn’t stop until the Falcons had scored 38 consecutive points. Along the way Jon Lee ran for 130 yards and two touchdowns, Broam Hart ran for 101 yards and a pair of scores and the Falcons averaged 6.4 yards per carry.
“When everybody does their job and executes, we’ll get results like that,” Hart said.
Colgate gained just 152 yards after the first quarter, with 75 coming on a scoring drive late in the fourth quarter against Air Force’s second unit.
“Our defense was on the field a lot today and that was hard for us,” Colgate coach Dick Biddle said. “Guys started to cramp up and it took a toll on us.”
Air Force backup quarterback Jaleel Awini replaced Pearson and attempted just three passes, completing two for 26 yards. Awini ran for minus 3 yards, mostly because of an 18-yard sack.
“At first I had to slow my mind down a little bit,” Awini said. “But it slowed down for me after halftime, so that was good.”
Air Force will find out definitive word on Pearson either Sunday or Monday, with a key home game against new Mountain West foe Utah State looming Saturday.
“I’ve ran over 1,000 snaps in practice, so I was pretty prepared coming into this game,” Awini said. “I came into this game like I was going to play.
“I’m here for my teammates. If I need to start next week, I’ll be ready.”