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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) _ Notre Dame showed Air Force a season’s worth of game highlights on Saturday, featuring best performances by Rick Mirer and speedy Raghib ″Rocket″ Ismail and best supporting role honors to the Irish punt defense.
″They could make their highlight film for the year, or make Ismail’s highlight film anyway, from this game,″ Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry said after No. 8 Notre Dame crushed the Falcons 57-27.
Mirer passed for 253 yards, throwing for touchdowns to Ismail and Derek Brown, in reviving the Irish (4-1) after last week’s 36-31 loss to Stanford. Ismail caught six passes for 172 yards and returned a kickoff 34 yards, and forced Air Force to surrender field position by punting away from him.
″I think our biggest problem was figuring out where Ismail was,″ DeBerry said.
Air Force’s biggest problem early in the game was Ryan Mihalko, who blocked two punts by the Falcons’ Jason Christ to set up Irish touchdowns.
The Notre Dame defensive line, led by 266-pound nose tackle Chris Zorich and 298-pound tackle George Williams, battered the smaller Air Force line to open the way for Mihalko.
″Everyone hit their gaps well and I was able to get in there pretty clean,″ Mihalko said.
DeBerry saw it differently. ″That’s probably as poor as job as we’ve done since I’ve been at the Air Force Academy,″ he said.
Dorsey Levens, in his first start at tailback, rushed for two first-quarter touchdowns to seal Air Force’s fate early. The Irish (4-1) led 31-7 at the half over the Falcons (3-4).
Air Force scored four times against an Irish defense that had allowed Tommy Vardell four 1-yard touchdown runs in last week’s loss to Stanford.
The Irish twice made quick work of touchdown drives, using three seconds when Levens rushed two yards after the first punt block, and eight seconds when Mirer hit Ismail on a 52-yard pass play with 3:12 left in the half.
Jason Jones scored twice for Air Force, rushing three yards at 9:48 in the second quarter to cap a 76-yard drive powered by Dan Zdroik’s 20 rushing yards in three carries. Jones scored again on a 5-yard run with 28 seconds left in the third, closing a 78-yard drive kept alive when Rodney Lewis rushed three yards on fourth-and-1 at the Notre Dame 11.
Rob Perez rushed a yard for a fourth-quarter touchdown in his first start as the Falcons’ quarterback, setting up his own score with a 60-yard run to the Irish 5. Jarvis Baker took over late in the fourth and ran two yards for the Falcons’ final score.
Ricky Watters added 4- and 1-yard rushing touchdowns for the Irish, and Jeff Burris scored on a 1-yard run with 2:27 left.
Notre Dame drove to the Air Force 8-yard line on its first possession, settling for Craig Hentrich’s 28-yard field goal after Mirer overthrew Levens in the end zone.
The Falcons’ third drive brought them to the Notre Dame 49 where Mihalko blocked his second Christ punt and Rod Smith recovered for Notre Dame at the Air Force 48. Levens rushed five yards for his second touchdown in the following drive that included a 19-yard run by Rodney Culver to the Air Force 6.
Notre Dame added a 26-yard Hentrich field goal and a safety when Christ fumbled a punt in the end zone and was tackled by Lamar Guillory.