AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Just as a young Air Force Falcons offense was finally settling in, out went their starting quarterback with a knee injury.
And after rushing to locate his helmet on the bench, in jogged backup Jaleel Awini, a little nervous and a bit mesmerized by the moment.
Turns out, there was nothing to fret about, not with this backfield.
As they customarily do -- no matter who is at quarterback -- the Falcons relied heavily on their ground game, amassing 409 yards. Lee finished with a career-high 130 yards and Hart added 101, also a career-best, to become the first Air Force tandem to eclipse the 100-yard mark since 2009.
Awini was solid in relief of injured starter Kale Pearson as Air Force improved to 7-0 in openers under coach Troy Calhoun.
"Can't let my teammates down," said Awini, whose team scored 38 straight points after trailing. "I just didn't want to let them down. I had to step up."
Unable to get anything going early, the youthful Falcons trailed the Raiders by a touchdown after the first quarter. About then Air Force found its stride, as Pearson was effective in executing the option offense in his first career start, only to suffer a right knee injury on a run play late in the second quarter.
His availability for the Mountain West Conference opener against Utah State remains uncertain. Calhoun said Pearson will soon undergo an MRI to assess the damage to his knee.
Should Pearson be unable to play, Awini is ready.
"I'm here for my teammates," said Awini, who completed two passes for 26 yards. "At first, I had to slow my mind down a little bit, because I was thinking about it a lot. (The game) slowed down for me after halftime."
Gavin McCarney, the Patriot League's preseason offensive player of the year, was kept pretty much in check, rushing for 35 yards and throwing for 143 along with a score. McCarney accounted for a school-record 3,778 yards of total offense last season.
"I think if we had thrown the ball a little more we might have been able to make it a better game," Colgate coach Dick Biddle said. "We expect a lot out of our quarterback."
After scoring on the opening drive, Colgate was eyeing another possible surprise win by a school from the Football Championships Subdivision this weekend, following North Dakota State's stunning 24-21 victory over Kansas State on Friday.
That's when Hart went to work, scoring twice on short runs. Lee added a 9-yard TD with 1:48 remaining before halftime, extending the Falcons' lead to 21-7.
Just before Lee's score, Air Force was dealt a blow when Pearson took a helmet to his right knee from linebacker Kris Kent while scrambling for a first down.
Pearson, who won the starting job in camp, initially got up, only to fall to the turf. He was helped off the field by the trainers and examined on the sideline. With his knee wrapped in ice, Pearson was carted into the locker room. He finished 5 of 8 for 46 yards and rushed for 15 more.
"It's definitely tough, seeing a good friend, someone we practice with every day, go down," said Lee, who turned in his first 100-yard performance for the Falcons. "He got hit pretty well and I was like, `Well, we've got to bring Jaleel in. He's got to step up.' I knew he would."
Pressed into duty, Awini led the Falcons on three straight scoring drives in the second half to put the game away as Falcons moved to 18-0 all-time against teams from the FCS.
"It was good for Jaleel to play," Calhoun said. "Any game that you play, especially a first one, you have a chance to digest what happened."
Colgate finished with 300 total yards against a Falcons defense featuring a revamped linebacker corps.
"They wore us down, particularly on defense, because they were getting a lot of people in on offense," Biddle said. "I was worried it would get too lopsided, but our kids hung in there. ... This will definitely help us down the road."
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