SAN DIEGO – Air Force shouldn’t be without starting quarterback Donald Hammond III for more than a few weeks, The Gazette has learned.
The sophomore suffered a high ankle sprain early in Friday’s 21-17 loss at San Diego State, leaving the field on a cart in a scary moment that left Air Force fans to fear it could be a broken bone or a damaged knee.
There is no time frame for Hammond’s return, but it would seem possible he could be available for an Oct. 27 home game against Boise State or the next week for the Falcons' showdown at Army with the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy guaranteed to reside on the campus of the winner for the next year.
So, there’s that bit of good news that Air Force can take from a trip to San Diego that was otherwise filled with more of the same frustrations.
Each loss this season has seen the Falcons (2-4, 0-3 Mountain West) lead in the fourth quarter or have the ball, trailing by six points or fewer.
On Friday, the Falcons coughed up a first-half lead in the final seconds when San Diego State blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown.
Then, after regaining the lead in the fourth quarter on Ronald Cleveland’s second touchdown, San Diego State drove 94 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
Before that drive, San Diego State (5-1, 2-0) had just 148 yards of offense and was 0-for-9 on third downs against a stout Air Force defensive that included a safety for Jordan Jackson (though it was officially credited as a team sack), an interception for Jeremy Fejedelem and an effort against the run that held the Aztecs to 84 yards on 34 carries.
But facing a third-and-9 play at its own 7 at the start of the drive, San Diego State quarterback Ryan Agnew scrambled out of the pocket and narrowly avoided a diving tackle attempt from Air Force linebacker Kyle Johnson en route to a 32-yard gain.
“I left my feet when I shouldn’t have,” Johnson said. “I take personal responsibility for that missed tackle and for that drive. I’m faster than he is. I would have got him eventually.”
Agnew later converted another third and long with a 32-yard pass on the run, then he found Parker Houston for a 29-yard touchdown.
“He made a couple big-time plays late in the game that helped us win it,” said San Diego State coach Rocky Long
The Falcons found no big-time plays in their two final attempts after falling behind, and backup quarterback Isaiah Sanders threw an interception to seal the team’s fate.
“I’ve got to do better, and we’ve got to figure it out as an offense how to get the ball down the field,” said Sanders, who went 7-for-15 passing for 51 yards and ran 15 times for 49 yards in relief of Hammond.
The Falcons next travel to UNLV, where they’ll face a Runnin’ Rebels squad that has trailed by a combined 61-7 at halftime of their losses to New Mexico and Utah State the past two weeks.
If the team is keep alive any reasonable hopes of a bowl berth, that game becomes a must-win. And, who knows, perhaps their starting quarterback will be available.