Michigan dropped their ninth game of the season on Saturday to the Air Force Academy; the Maize and Blue are now an abysmal 0-9 (0-5 ECAC) on the season. Air Force improved their record to 5-5 (1-3 ECAC) after a four game slump that saw them lose to 2013 D-1 newcomers Marquette.
Michigan's Will Meter scored the first goal of the game, just barely 90 seconds in. The Falcons' Mike Crampton tied it up with 4:27 to go in the first quarter. Crampton was the team's points leader heading into Saturday's match-up, which saw him score three goals and an assist before the day was done. The Air Force scoring was a joint effort, with Tommy McKee (2), Keith Dreyer (2), Erik Smith (2), and Bryan Price (1) getting into the action.
Michigan couldn't get on the board again until 3:20 to go in the third quarter when 6'2" Freshman Middie, Mike Hernandez, scored from about eight yards out and to the away side of Falcons goalkeeper Austin Fox. Up to this point, the Air Force zone had proved to be too compact for Michigan to penetrate, but Michigan took advantage of the man-up opportunity due to an illegal body check by the Falcons. It was from this point that the Michigan offense and defense started to click. After the score by Hernandez, Will Meter picked the Air Force clear attempt and drove in a score from about five yards out, bringing the score to 9-3. Air Force again tried to clear after the face-off, but Jeff Chu had the second pick out of the air for Michigan, which led to Kyle Jackson ripping a line drive from 15 yards. This score was the third Michigan goal in a minute and brought the Wolverines within five of Air Force. This is where the margin would stay until Kyle Jackson scored his second of the game, with 9:46 to go in the fourth quarter. With both sides of the ball clicking, and Michigan taking the shots that the Air Force zone could give, it looked as though the game could come down to the wire. Air Force's Keith Dreyer scored his second goal of the game, putting the Falcons up 10-5 with 4:44 to go in the fourth. The final score of the game was by way of Michigan's Mike Hernandez with 33 seconds left in the game.
Until Michigan broke through in the third quarter, the Air Force zone was giving the Wolverines fits. The Air Force offense was also taking advantage of the Michigan man-to-man defense, which allowed for the scoring fiesta. Michigan's head coach, John Paul, acknowledged the troubles with the zone and told the sideline reporter going into halftime that his crew needed to take better shots. Once the Wolverines figured out how to exploit the weakness in the zone through good ball movement, the team brought the game within reach.
The stat sheet shows a relatively even match-up: shots were in favor of Michigan 37 to 36; Michigan also led in ground balls (29 to 28). The real difference came at the X, with Air Force going 13 of 20. The way Michigan stayed in the game was through the 19 Air Force turnovers, two of which led to Michigan scores. The Wolverines also scored on one of their three man-up chances, versus Air Force going 0-2.
The takeaway? Michigan is young, but clearly has the talent on the roster to be competitive. I'm not predicting any national titles in the next year, but there is definitely a foundation being built, and this young team will be able to take the lessons of this year and turn them into victories next year. Team Three is on the rise.