AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. While the players change at Air Force, the formula for success stays the same: Run the ball.
Shea Smith ran for one touchdown and threw for another as the Falcons beat Southern Utah 41-7 in the season opener for both teams.
Smith, one of the seven Falcons making a first career start, ran for 91 yards and was 8-for-12 passing for 75 yards and a touchdown for the Falcons, who had 508 total yards, 433 on the ground.
"It's really nice when you can run the ball like that," Smith said. "If we can run like we did today, I like that."
Kyle Halderman had 87 yards rushing and Kyle Lumpkin had 77 for Air Force, which had 13 different players run the ball Saturday.
Southern Utah, from the Championship Subdivision, finished with just 7 rushing yards and 130 yards of total offense. Wide receiver Tysson Poots had nine catches for 73 yards for the Thunderbirds, who lost their 19th straight game and haven't won since beating Texas State 30-21 on Sept. 23, 2006.
"Air Force looked sharp," Southern Utah coach Ed Lamb said. "They had their way with us and were able to do whatever they wanted to do with us offensively."
Smith scored the first touchdown of his career on a 1-yard run to give Air Force a 9-0 lead in the first quarter. In the second quarter, he got the first TD pass of his career on a 1-yard strike to tight end Keith Madsen to give the Falcons an 18-0 lead.
Ryan Harrison's 30-yard field goal at the end of the second quarter gave Air Force a 21-0 halftime lead.
Earlier in the week Smith, a senior, was named the starter over junior Eric Herbort, but Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said he planned to give both playing time. Instead, Smith played most of the game before sitting for the last 5:06 and the outcome not in doubt. Herbort rushed for 11 yards in his only snap.
With so many new starters, Calhoun said his team needed Smith's experience.
"I thought there was pretty good continuity when Shea was out there," Calhoun said. "I thought we needed his presence as a senior because we have so many young guys and at least he had been in a football game. A little bit of it was gut feel."
Smith didn't have a turnover, but the rest of the team fumbled four times, losing two. Calhoun said inexperience played a part in the fumbles.
"Offensively, we had a bunch of brand new guys with the ball, and that's evident by the number of balls on the ground," he said. "That's going to be unacceptable this season."
The Falcons had 201 rushing yards in the first half. Southern Utah had 7 yards rushing at the break.
The Air Force defense even got into the scoring column, recording two safeties in the first half.
The first safety came after Southern Utah's goal-line stand on the Falcons' first drive of the game.
The Thunderbirds' celebration didn't last. On second-and-10 from the 1, linebacker Brandon Reeves tackled Kenny Apilli in the end zone to give Air Force a 2-0 lead with 8:08 left in the first quarter.
"The D-line took all the blocks for us, and I just hit a hole and he was there," said Reeves, who started his first game.
In the second quarter, Trevor Ward's 45-yard punt to the Southern Utah 6 set up the second safety. On second-and-9, defensive end Jake Paulson sacked Cody Stone in the end zone to make it 11-0 with 10:07 left.
"It was nice to get out there and hit somebody else besides ourselves," said Paulson, who had two sacks and another tackle for a loss.
The Falcons made it 28-0 early in the third quarter on Halderman's 48-yard touchdown run, and fumbles on Southern Utah's next two drives led to field goals of 42 yards and 32 yards by Harrison that made it 34-0.
The Thunderbirds scored on Cody Stone's 31-yard touchdown pass to Nick Miller with 5:01 left in the third quarter to cap an 80-yard drive. Southern Utah started the drive with 28 yards of total offense.
Stone finished 15-for-25 for 123 yards and a touchdown.
The Falcons answered with a 17-play, 96-yard drive capped by Jonathan Warzeka's 14-yard touchdown run that made it 41-7 with 6:29 left.