An Air Force team in a prolonged slump desperately needed someone to jolt it back to life.
Enter Anthony LaCoste.
The senior exploded for 263 rushing yards — second most in team history — and scored three touchdowns in leading the Falcons to a 42-28 victory over Army on Saturday at Falcon Stadium.
The victory snapped a seven-game losing streak for Air Force (2-7) and prevented the Black Knights from posting consecutive victories in the series for the first time since the 1970s.
“It’s about as good as it gets right here,” LaCoste said. “I’m going to remember this game the rest of my life.”
LaCoste ripped off touchdown runs of 78 and 73 yards, providing a quick-strike counter to the drawn-out scoring drives Army was grinding out.
Once the Air Force defense finally turned off that faucet and stymied Army’s rushing attack, LaCoste and the Air Force offense provided a finishing kick with a pair of fourth-quarter runs to clinch it.
“I was saying in the locker room that this is the best 2-7 has ever felt, I’m sure,” said Falcons safety Christian Spears, who made a game-high 12 tackles. “The season hasn’t gone the way we’d have liked it to, but to get it at home and against Army it was just an amazing feeling.”
Army (3-6) scored on three of its four first-half drives, the only stop coming when Air Force’s Nick Fitzgerald got a hand on a 48-yard field-goal attempt.
That play — and the two tackles from Spears that preceded it — was huge at the time. Army was looking to add to what was already a 14-7 lead in the second quarter. Instead, the block was returned 20 yards by Gavin McHenry and set up a short field for Air Force to force a tie.
The game was again tied, 21-21, at halftime after Air Force freshman quarterback Nate Romine scored with 11 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Each of Army’s three first-half touchdowns came from quarterback Angel Santiago.
The Falcons controlled the second half on both sides, outgaining the Black Knights 237 to 131 over the final 30 minutes.
The tension wasn’t fully released until Broam Hart’s 3-yard touchdown with 3:41 remaining. Just before that Army had recovered a muffed punt and mounted a quick 25-yard scoring drive.
For a team that had lost second-half leads in three of its past four games, it seemed Air Force might again let one slip away. Instead, the Falcons drove down to push the lead back to 14.
“It definitely wasn’t, ‘Here we go again,’” Spears said. “It was more, ‘OK, this has happened before, what are we going to do differently this time?’ Before, when big plays have happened we’ve let a team take that momentum to the next play and the next play.”
The game’s hero, LaCoste, was bombarded with questions afterward about the emotion of the game — particularly since it came so late in his career. He seemed sincere in saying that the biggest reward was in helping the team break out of its slump.
But he also reminded everyone that sudden emergence didn’t come out of nowhere.
“I just knew if I kept working my butt off that I’d get my chance,” LaCoste said, “and then when I got to that opportunity I’d be as prepared as I could be to make it happen.”