Next season's solution? Freshman running back emerges in Air Force spring game

March 19, 2014 Updated: March 20, 2014 at 1:45 pm
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Air Force Blue Team running back Jacobi Owens drags a White Team defender into the end zone to score the Blue Team's first touchdown during the Air Force Spring Game scrimmage Wednesday, March 19, 2014 at D20 Stadium. Owens score both touchdowns that led the Blue Team to a 17-3 victory over the White team. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

Jacobi Owens came to Air Force knowing life in the military can change in an instant.

He just didn't think it would happen in this particular manner.

Owens was the breakout star for the Falcons in their spring game on Wednesday evening at District 20 Stadium. The tailback from Las Vegas ran for 98 yards on eight carries and scored both of the game's touchdowns, carrying the Blue Team to a 17-3 victory over the Silver Team.

A few days ago he was an unknown to Air Force football fans and a freshman who was undergoing the brutal recognition training. That rite of passage is behind him and he'll certainly be in the mix for playing time at tailback.

"It changes really fast," said Owens, whose touchdowns came on runs of 37 and 25 yards. "That's the whole part of the military life. Things can change at a moment's notice. It's going to be like that if you're in the air flying in a combat zone."

This wasn't a combat zone, but it was - for the most part - a live-game situation. Quarterbacks were not tackled and the only special teams that saw true-to-life play were the field goal and extra-point teams. Other than that, it was a real game that even had the Air Force cheerleaders on hand to perform for the couple of hundred fans who sat through cool temperatures on a sunny late-winter evening.

"I just love it," coach Troy Calhoun said. "You get out in the community. It's something you'd like to do a lot more frequently. It's just neat to be a part of Colorado Springs."

For Calhoun, who is seeking playmakers, this was an opportunity to evaluate his team in a game environment.

He obviously took note of Owens, who worked his way up from third team early in the spring to where he was taking reps with the first team earlier this week.

Others who stood out include freshman running back Nnaji Omenye, who ran for 47 yards on 12 carries and slot receiver Brent Hancock, who ran for 27 yards on three carries and caught a pass for 12 yards. Sophomore Cody Apfel led all receivers with three catches, gaining 33 yards.

All stats are unofficial, as the team did not keep track.

Sophomore quarterback Karson Roberts went 6 of 12 for 93 yards, his big strike coming on a 52-yard completion to Lucas Duncavage. Freshman Nate Romine completed 6-of-10 passes for 52 yards.

"I was just learning the offense five months ago," said Romine, who started the final six games last year. "I think I've got the basics down. Now it's just getting into it and getting the finer details down."

Defensively, outside linebacker Donnie Wharton had a sack and recovered a fumble.

"It was nice to have some people out there watching us," Wharton said. "It makes it more exciting."

There were rough patches in this one, too. Roberts misfired on a deep throw after Garrett Brown slipped uncovered through secondary. Myles Barnes dropped a pass, drawing gasps from Air Force fans who saw too many drops a year ago. A pitch from Roberts to Bryan Driskell was dropped, two players lost fumbles and returning placekicker Will Conant missed his only field-goal try.

Kicks were converted by Tim Shenk (from 44 yards) and Drew Oehrle (40 yards).

But in a game that counted only for individuals trying to make a name, no one won bigger than Owens, who played with the junior varsity and freshman teams this fall as the Falcons went 2-10.

"I was kind of surprised at myself," he said. "I put a lot of pressure on myself, so I was really expecting nothing less.

"I feel like I've just been working my butt off, trying to get better every day. It just kind of surfaced today."

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