AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — On a night when the Air Force defense was battered and burned, linebacker Grant Ross turned in the biggest play of the game.
To think, he nearly got ejected in the first half for a targeting penalty.
Tim McVey scored four touchdowns, Ross forced a late fumble and Air Force held off Colorado State 49-46 on Saturday in the highest-scoring game of the rivalry.
Colorado State receiver Michael Gallup hauled in a pass to convert a first down with around 1:25 remaining, only to have the ball stripped away by Ross and recovered by safety Brodie Hicks to seal the win for the Falcons (7-3, 3-3 Mountain West).
"We finally figured something out on the final quarter of the final drive," Hicks said. "It ended up helping win the game."
Air Force quarterback Arion Worthman runs against Colorado State during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game in Colorado Springs, Colo., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016.
There was a nervous moment for the Falcons just before halftime when Ross hit Colorado State QB Nick Stevens in the chest on a play that produced an interception by Jesse Washington. The official flagged him for targeting. The replay booth reversed the call and the penalty was nullified.
"When I saw the replay, I saw I backed off on (the hit)," Ross explained. "That's why they didn't throw me out.
"I'm glad (the game) was on us (at the end). The offense played their guts out. The other team played their guts out. That's just how it came out. That's how we like it."
McVey gained 184 of Air Force's season-high 485 yards rushing. He nearly had a fifth touchdown, but fumbled into the end zone where offensive lineman Dylan Vail pounced on it.
The two teams combined for 1,093 total yards, four turnovers and just two punts — both by Air Force. The 95 combined points surpassed the old mark of 84 in the series set in 2000. The Falcons lead the all-time series 33-21-1 over the Rams (5-5, 3-3).
"They made their fair share of plays," Colorado State coach Mike Bobo said. "We didn't do the things that we needed to do."
Air Force running back Tim McVey gets into the end zone past Colorado State linebacker Tre Thomas on a touchdown during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game in Colorado Springs, Colo., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016.
Photo Credit: Mark Reis/The Gazette via AP
Stevens finished with 374 yards passing and two TDs. His favorite target was Gallup , who hauled in 13 passes for 213 yards. The Rams never punted, but missed two field goals, failed to convert on a fourth down and turned it over twice.
Air Force sophomore Arion Worthman stepped in again at quarterback with senior Nate Romine bothered by a sore ankle. Worthman rushed for 143 yards, including a 54-yard scamper for a score.
Stevens pulled the Rams to within a field goal, 49-46, when he found Gallup for a 7-yard score and a two-point conversion with 6:43 remaining. Colorado State's defense held and Air Force had to punt. A few plays later, Gallup fumbled trying to break away from Ross.
"Michael had a heck of a game and he's hurting about the fumble," Bobo said. "But he's going to learn from this and we're going to learn from this as a team."
Colorado State: The Rams turned in plenty of big plays with Dalyn Dawkins breaking off a 61-yard TD run and defensive back Justin Sweet returning an interception 27 yards for a score. Colorado State remains a win away from bowl eligibility.
Air Force: Another game, another trophy. A week after wrapping up the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy last, the Falcons took home the Ram-Falcon Trophy. That particular keepsake has gone to the winner since 1980.
McVey insisted he now doesn't owe Vail a holiday gift. He already gave him one courtesy of that touchdown. McVey weaved his way through the defense for a 38-yard gain, only to get hit at the 4 by Colorado State's Kevin Davis and lose the ball bouncing into the end zone. There was a hustling Vail to fall on it.
"Dylan came up to me after the play and said, 'I was coming up on you, you have to move a little faster,'" McVey said, grinning. "All right Dylan, way to cover me. It was great."
This wasn't the first TD for Vail. He said he scored in a similar manner during his high school days in Texas.
Colorado State: The Rams play their final football game at Hughes Stadium on Saturday against New Mexico. Colorado State will move into a $220 million on-campus stadium in 2017.
Air Force: Travels to San Jose State next Saturday.