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New confidence for Falcons
By Irv Moss
Denver Post Sports Writer

Friday, September 27, 2002 - There's a precedent that makes it unnecessary to ask Fisher DeBerry if he's surprised at the early success of his 2002 Air Force team.
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But for the record, the coach was asked if he was surprised by a 3-0 start that includes victories over Northwestern, New Mexico and California.

"Not really," DeBerry said. "We have some young talent, but it has been a different attitude more than anything. It started to develop with our game against Utah last year."

That brings the Falcons back to the beginning, when they play the Utes on Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Last year's game was important because the Falcons held on to win 38-37 at Falcon Stadium, averting a losing season with a 6-6 record.

But the .500 season didn't pacify the disappointment for DeBerry and his staff. The word came out of the head coach's office that he expected immediate dedication to getting back on a winning track.

There's precedent for immediate improvement when DeBerry has had his feathers ruffled by losing seasons. He only has experienced two losing seasons in 19 years at the helm of a service academy football program that is considered an infant compared with Army and Navy.

DeBerry's 1988 team finished 5-7, but the Falcons were back to 8-4-1 the following year and in the Liberty Bowl to face Mississippi.

Then, after a 4-8 season in 1993, the Falcons rebounded to finish 8-4 in '94, winning eight of its last nine games.

Maybe the different attitude DeBerry talks about this year is best reflected by quarterback Chance Harridge.

After a stunning second-half comeback last Saturday against California, Harridge talked about his three touchdowns during vintage triple-option drives.

"They expect that kind of play out of me," Harridge said, adding his teammates look to him for leadership.

"He (Harridge) believes he can do it, and that radiates confidence to the rest of our team," DeBerry said. "He had a great game against California, but that's in the past. Utah presents a tremendous challenge for our team. They're very aggressive, and they have the best defense I've seen this year."

Air Force notes
From the coaching staff to the playing field, Utah has several Colorado connections.

Running backs coach Vincent White was a high school football star at Denver's Mullen High School before going on to Stanford.

The team roster also includes wide receiver Justin Walterscheid, a sophomore from Grand Junction, and running back Chris Gantz, a freshman from Denver's Manual High School.

But running back J.R. Peroulis will be the most visible Colorado connection. Peroulis, the top rusher in Colorado prep football with 1,980 yards in 1997 while at Grand Junction High School, starts at running back for the Utes. He gained the starting assignment when Marty Johnson was injured in the second game of the season. In four games, Peroulis has 223 yards and one touchdown on 47 carries.

Peroulis also participated in track and field and basketball at Grand Junction, setting school records in the long jump of 23 feet, 6 inches and the 100 meters in 10.72 seconds.

He was at Arizona State for two years before transferring to Utah. When White joined the Utah coaching staff from Arizona State, Peroulis followed.

With Matt McCraney out of the linebacker rotation with a knee injury, the workload gets heavier for Anthony Schlegel, Marchello Graddy, John Rudzinski and Trevor Hightower. Sophomores Kenny Smith and Cameron Hodge could see more time in the rotation.

Air Force leads the series 12-6, but the Falcons are 5-4 when playing in Salt Lake City. Only 17 points have separated the two over the past four games. Utah won a 22-21 decision in 1995 and a 21-15 triumph in '99. Air Force won 23-14 in 2000 and 38-37 last year.

Air Force's 23-21 victory Saturday over 23rd-ranked Cal was its first victory on the road over a ranked team since beating No. 25 Wyoming in 1998 by a 10-3 score.

Air Force on offense
Coach Fisher DeBerry sets the task at hand by claiming Utah's defensive team is the best the Falcons will have faced so far. The record indicates DeBerry knows what he's talking about. Utah's defense has allowed 49 points in four games, but the past two games are noteworthy. Arizona beat the Utes 23-17 and Michigan had to scramble for a 10-7 victory.

The battle shaping up is a classic matchup between Air Force's plan of ball control against a Utah defense that doesn't like long opponent drives.

Strong safety Dave Revill is the workhorse on the Utah defense, leading in tackles with 36. Revill has two sacks, a forced fumble and a recovered fumble. Air Force quarterback Chance Harridge showed the Falcons can drive on a tough defense last Saturday, running Air Force's triple option at the California defense for second-half scoring drives of 65, 57 and 45 yards. But Harridge completed only three passes against Cal for 22 yards. That won't be good enough against the Utes.

Air Force on defense
The Falcons played a good defensive game last week against Cal's Kyle Boller, allowing five field goals and a touchdown that was scored with 31 seconds left in the game.

Lance Rice presents another strong passing game for the Falcons to face. A first look indicates Air Force might have an advantage since the Utes lost running back Marty Johnson after the second game of the season. Johnson was a hard runner, who could break tackles. J.R. Peroulis isn't as strong a runner, but he adds breakaway speed. With Rice's passing and the running speed provided by Peroulis, Air Force linebackers will be tested.

So far, Anthony Schlegel has been up to the tests, leading Air Force in tackles with 17. Fellow linebackers Marchello Graddy and John Rudzinski are among the top seven in tackles, both with 11. DeBerry said his defense played well against Cal, chasing the football with a number of defenders.
09-29-2002 11:36 AM
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