FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) Quarterback Nick Stevens put his team on his shoulder after being told by his coach he no longer had to look over it.
With a vote of confidence before the game, Stevens threw for a career-best 296 yards and three touchdown passes, including a pair to Joe Hansley, as Colorado State beat Air Force 38-23 on Saturday.
For most of the season, Stevens has glanced toward the sideline, just to see if backup Coleman Key might be coming in for a play or two. Coach Mike Bobo told Stevens he wouldn't be doing that - no matter what happened.
''Nick looked calm and collected,'' All-American receiver Rashard Higgins said. ''He was a poet with what he was doing.''
Stevens had a great week of practice, which lead Bobo to make the proclamation. Behind Stevens, the Rams (3-4, 1-2 Mountain West) were clicking on offense, going 4 for 4 in the red zone.
''Let the ball fly out there,'' Stevens said. ''I felt like I did really well in practice this week. That kind of gave me the confidence to do this.''
Jasen Oden Jr. scored twice and rushed for 89 yards. Hansley came up big with Higgins limited by a hamstring injury and an illness. Hansley caught three passes for 75 yards to help Colorado State capture the Ram-Falcon Trophy, an award given to the winner since 1980. The Rams are now 2-8 against the Falcons since 2006.
Air Force (3-3, 2-1) missed out on an opportunity to stay atop the Mountain Division with Utah State, which upset No. 21 Boise State on Friday. Even more, the Falcons lost fullback Shayne Davern in the third quarter with an apparent right knee injury. Davern had 76 yards rushing, including a 60-yard TD run.
''Offensively, we could've been more crisp,'' Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. ''And defensively, we have to be better in coverage.''
Up 14-13 late in the first half, Colorado State scored 24 straight points to pull away. The defense played a big role by stopping Air Force's vaunted option attack and forcing two turnovers. Tyree Simmons had an interception and also forced a fumble that was recovered by Deonte Clyburn.
Higgins was drained at times from the flu that kept him out of practice. He still finished with seven catches for 74 yards, including a diving 33-yard reception late in the third quarter that led to a field goal to put Colorado State up 38-13.
He also recovered an onside kick with 4:21 remaining after Air Force sliced the lead to 38-23.
''This is a great step in the right direction,'' Higgins said. ''We want to make it to a bowl game. It's not over for us. It keeps us in the picture.''
Hansley had a big first half, with two TD catches. It could've been even more memorable, but his 75-yard punt return for a score in the first quarter was negated by an illegal block.
That didn't matter, as the Rams scored five plays later when Stevens found a wide open Steven Walker for a 23-yard TD.
Air Force quickly answered on Davern's 60-yard run up the middle. Drew Oehrle missed the extra point off the upright.
It was just that sort of afternoon for the Falcons on special teams. They couldn't attempt a 30-yard field goal after long-snapper Andrew Gikas sent the ball high to holder Brett Dunn, who fumbled the football and had to pounce on it.
The Falcons sent Luke Strebel out to make a 41-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Karson Roberts couldn't get the offense on track, with the Falcons held to 269 yards rushing, below their league-leading average of 320.8. Roberts finished with 104 yards passing, while receiver Tyler Williams completed the only pass he threw - a 33-yard strike to Davern.
''We have a guy that's diligent and dedicated,'' Calhoun said of Roberts.
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