AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) — Air Force linebacker Alex Means single-handedly turned the tide with an interception return for a touchdown he said was pure luck, then snuffed out New Mexico's comeback with a fourth-down stop in the closing minutes.
The senior reached high with his right hand to tip B.R. Holbrook's pass to running back Chase Clayton in the right flat during the first half Saturday night, gathered in the fluttering football and sprinted 65 yards untouched for his first career TD.
Then, he helped seal the Falcons' 28-23 win by stuffing Lamaar Thomas for a 4-yard loss on fourth-and-4 from the Falcons 12 after missing a series while shaking off the effects of a chop block.
Thanks to Means' pair of big plays and a trio of 1-yard TD runs by Wes Cobb, the Falcons (4-3, 3-1) overcame Kasey Carrier's Mountain West Conference-record 338 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
Means was particularly fond of his fourth-down stop.
"I think that was a more critical point of the game," he said. "The interception, I actually didn't run the right play. We had a little miscommunication on what the play was. I kind of ran it late and I was in no man's land and ... we got lucky, but we'll take it."
Late on a blitz call, Means found himself between the quarterback and the receiver in the backfield and used every bit of his 6-foot-5 frame to make sure Holbrook's floater didn't reach its target.
"I just put my hand up, and it tipped and popped up in the air, and the whole time I said, 'No way, no way, no way!' " Means recounted. "And the next thing I know, I was in the end zone about to have a heart attack."
The Falcons won despite losing Cody Getz, the nation's second-leading rusher, on their first snap when he aggravated a sprained left ankle. They ended up rushing for 291 yards to New Mexico's 409.
The Lobos (4-4, 1-2) lost Holbrook to a concussion just before halftime and mostly ran the ball in the second half behind backup quarterback Quinton McCown and with Carrier and Thomas, a wide receiver, taking some direct snaps.
Trailing by five, the Lobos reached the Air Force 18 after a strip by Tim Foley of Falcons receiver Ty MacArthur. But Carrier had to take a breather on the sideline and then gained just 1 yard on third-and-5. Then, he watched Thomas get stuffed by Means on fourth down.
The Falcons took over and chewed up the final 3:57 to secure their fifth straight win over New Mexico.
Under coach Bob Davie, the Lobos have already halted a 24-game road losing streak, put a stop to a 26-game skid outside of New Mexico and ended an 18-game losing streak on the road in league play.