Shaun Carney was done. He had suffered a severe knee injury aganst Cal in the third quarter of the 2007 Armed Forces Bowl.
Coach Troy Calhoun was trying to decide what to do next when he felt a tug on his shoulder.
It was Chad Hall, his star running back. Hall rushed for 1,478 yards in his spectacular senior season.
“You know coach,” Hall said, “I can play quarterback.”
It almost happened.
Hall had not played quarterback since he starred at the position in high school, but he had a thorough knowledge of AFA’s option offense.
“I did think about it,” Calhoun said. “I just thought that might be a little much, taking a center-quarterback exchange when he hadn’t worked on it in practice. He would be a heck of a quarterback.
“I tell you what, after he said it, what absolutely went through my mind. ‘If I knew Carney would have gotten hurt, we would have practiced this for awhile. We would have had Chad ready.’ ”
Calhoun instead turned to backup quarterback Shea Smith, who served as a quality relief pitcher, but the Falcons, who had led 21-0, ended up losing, 42-36.
On the sideline, Calhoun kept thinking about Tom Matte, the Baltimore Colts versatile halfback. Late in the 1965 season, the Colts lost quarterbacks Johnny Unitas and Gary Cuozzo to injury, forcing coach Don Shula to turn to Matte.
Matte, playing with a list of plays taped to his wrist, led the Colts to a 20-17 win over the Rams and almost led the Colts to a playoff upset over the mighty Packers.
“All I could think about on the sideline was Tom Matte,” Calhoun said. “If we had played the next week, we would have worked Chad a little bit at quarterback.”
But there was no next week. The game ended Carney’s and Hall’s AFA careers.
As for Hall, he has no doubt what would have happened if he had persuaded Calhoun to let him play quarterback.
“I was ready to roll, you know,” Hall said. “Playing quarterback is what I got recruited to do and that’s what I always wanted to do.
“What would have happened? It would have been an Air Force comeback, a bowl win. I definitely could have gotten the job done. … It was my last game, and I would have done anything to get that W.”
Here’s a look at Shea Smith’s performance in the Cal game. Smith was the quarterback who tried to rescue AFA.