Rhema McKnight celebrates a touchdown against Air Force with teammate Jeff Samardzija.

Irish Cruise Past Falcons 39-17

Nov. 11, 2006

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) -Efficient and effective just like Brady Quinn envisioned, the ninth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish manhandled Air Force 39-17 Saturday for their eighth straight road win.

The Irish (9-1), who secured back-to-back nine-win seasons for the first time in 13 years, struck early and dispatched the Falcons (4-5), who never could capitalize on their ball-control option offense that kept Quinn & Co. on the sideline for much of the game.

The Falcons had the ball for nearly 39 minutes, but the Irish didn’t need long to do damage.

Quinn threw for 207 yards and four touchdowns, Darius Walker rushed for 153 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries and Jeff Samardzija caught six passes for 106 yards and a touchdown.

After surrendering three touchdown passes to Quinn in the first quarter, the Falcons finally succeeded in keeping him off the field for all but one minute of the second quarter.

Not that it mattered – Air Force only fell further behind.

Trevor Laws blocked Zach Sasser’s 32-yard field goal attempt and Terrail Lambert returned it 76 yards for a touchdown, and the Falcons turned the ball over on downs at the Irish 24 on their other drive.

Quinn, who completed 14 of 19 passes, hit Samardzija for a 29-yard gain on the game’s first snap, then found him all alone behind the defense for a 51-yard score on the second snap when cornerback Garrett Rybak bit on the fake.

Runs of 14 and 15 yards by Walker set up Quinn’s 24-yard scoring strike to Rhema McKnight, who slipped cornerback Chris Sutton like a winter coat just inside the 10-yard line and trotted in for a 20-3 lead. The PAT was blocked.

Sasser lined up for his second 32-yarder in the second quarter. Laws reached high and blocked the low kick, Lambert scooped it up and followed a wall of blockers down 76 yards down the Irish sideline to make it 27-3.

After senior Marcus Freeman caught his first career touchdown pass, a 23-yarder from Quinn in the third quarter that capped an 87-yard drive that made it 33-3, the Falcons finally found the end zone.

Carney hit Beau Suder from 12 yards out on fourth-and-2 to make it 33-10 and cap a 16-play, 80-yard drive that ate up more than eight minutes.

Between the second and third quarters, the Falcons ran 49 plays to the Irish’s 12.

Walker’s 4-yard TD run made it 39-10, but Gioia missed his third extra point, two of which were blocked. Jocobe Kendrick’s 7-yard TD catch from Carney capped the scoring.

Notre Dame improved to 35-1 against the service academies over the last 20 years, with the one loss coming to Air Force in South Bend a decade ago. The Falcons return to Notre Dame next November in what might be their last meeting with the Irish intent on scheduling more Big East schools.

The game was Notre Dame’s first since 1992 that wasn’t broadcast on NBC, CBS, ABC or ESPN.