An aggressive Wyoming defense that forced four Air Force turnovers and a balanced Cowboy offense that generated 189 yards rushing and 173 passing led the Wyoming Cowboys to a 35-26 home win over the Falcons on Saturday. The Cowboys improved to 2-0 in the Mountain West and 4-2 overall with the victory, which was the fourth consecutive home win for Wyoming.
For Air Force, it was the Falcons’ first loss of the season, dropping them to 4-1 and 1-1 in the Mountain West. The Falcons came into the game allowing opponents only 53 rushing yards per game, but the Cowboys were able to generate 189 rushing yards, including 92 by junior running back Brian Hill and 74 by sophomore quarterback Josh Allen.
Forcing turnovers were key for the Cowboys for the second straight week. The Pokes intercepted the Falcons three times and senior linebacker D.J. May returned an Air Force fumble for 15 yards and a touchdown. May’s TD marked the third consecutive game that the Wyoming defense scored at least one touchdown. Sophomore strong safety Marcus Epps picked off an Air Force pass in the first quarter. Sophomore cornerback Antonio Hull intercepted two passes -- one late in the third quarter and a second interception on Air Force’s final possession with 1:43 remaining in the game to seal the victory for the Pokes.
The Cowboys built a 28-6 lead late in the third quarter, but Air Force fought its way back into the game with three consecutive touchdowns to pull with two points at 28-26 with 3:31 remaining in the game.
“It was the type of game, as far as being close, that we anticipated,” said Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl. “The game didn’t come about the way we thought it would with the ebbs and flows. Credit to Coach (Troy) Calhoun, they came back with a vengeance and exploited some things.
“Our guys made some big plays, obviously time of possession was critical, and we won that and made plays when we needed to. Defensively we scored again which was helpful.”
Wyoming took the opening drive of the game 75 yards in 11 plays, scoring on a 17-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Allen to senior wide receiver Tanner Gentry to take a 7-0 lead with 10:40 remaining in the first quarter. The key play on the drive was a 27-yard run by Allen down the sideline on a third and 15 from the Wyoming 42-yard line.
Air Force scored its first points on its first possession of the second quarter. The Falcons drove 50 yards in nine plays, resulting in a 47-yard field goal by Luke Strebel.
On its next drive, the Cowboys would answer with their second 75-yard touchdown drive of the first half. The two biggest plays of the drive came on the final two plays -- a 17-yard pass from Allen to sophomore wide receiver James Price and a 20-yard TD pass from Allen to senior receiver Jake Maulhardt.
After the Cowboy defense forced a three-and-out on Air Force’s next possession, Falcon punter Steve Brosy pinned the Cowboys back on their own four-yard line following a 62-yard punt. Wyoming was unable to move the ball and following a Cowboy punt, Air Force took over at the Wyoming 30. The Cowboy defense stiffened and forced Air Force into a second field goal by Strebel from 41 yards out and Wyoming went into the locker room at halftime up 14-6.
In the third quarter, it appeared as if the Cowboys might put the game away. May’s return of an Air Force fumble for a touchdown gave Wyoming a 21-6 lead. The Cowboys built a 28-6 lead with 3:33 remaining in the third quarter, when Allen hit senior tight end Jacob Hollister on a 32-yard touchdown pass. But Air Force struck back quickly on the first play of its next possession. Falcon quarterback Nate Romine hit wide receiver Jalen Robinette on a 75-yard pass down the middle of the field for a touchdown. It pulled the Falcons to within 15 points at 28-13 with 3:21 left in the third quarter.
On its first possession of the fourth quarter, Air Force put together an 84-yard scoring drive, that included two 28-yard runs and was capped off by a one-yard TD run by Romine to pull the Falcons to within eight points at 28-20.
The Cowboys were able to take four minutes and six seconds off the clock on its ensuing possession, but were forced to punt the ball back to Air Force with 4:57 remaining in the game. Cowboy punter Ethan Wood hit a 41-yard punt that resulted in Air Force taking over at its own 35-yard line. Falcon QB Romine connected with running back Tim McVey on a 28-yard pass to start the drive, putting the ball at the Wyoming 37. After a sack of Romine by redshirt freshman defensive tackle Youhanna Ghaifan, Romine hit Robinette on a 25-yard pass on second down, but the play was called back due to a holding penalty. With the ball at the Cowboy 49-yard line, Romine then connected with running back McVey on a 49-yard TD pass to make the score 28-26 and pull the Falcons to within a two-point conversion of tying the game. Air Force tried to run wide with running back Jacobi Owens on the two-point conversion attempt, but junior cornerback Rico Gaffordcame flying at the feet of Owens, and redshirt freshman defensive end @Josiah made the tackle on Owens, preserving the Cowboy lead.
With only 3:31 remaining in the game, Air Force decided to attempt an onside kick. Cowboy senior linebacker and captain Lucas Wacha caught the onside attempt and returned it six yards to the Air Force 37.
The Cowboy offense gained 15 yards on first down on a sweep play with wide receiver Gentry, taking the ball down to the Air Force 22. After a rush for no yards on the second play, Air Force sacked Allen for an 11-yard loss back to the Air Force 33-yard line, forcing a third down and 21 yards. The next play was another huge run by Allen, as he would take off on a 32-yard scamper down to the Falcons’ one-yard line. Cowboy running back Hill would carry it in from one-yard out for the TD and the Cowboys were back up 35-26.
Regarding Allen’s run on third and 21 yards, Bohl said, “We got sacked on the previous play and I was concerned about the yardage. A lot of components in that situation and Josh made the right read. It was a huge play in the ball game.”
Three plays into Air Force’s final possession, Hull intercepted Romine and the Cowboys would run out the final one minute and 43 seconds to improve to 2-0 in the league and 4-2 overall heading into a bye week at the midpoint of the season.
Bohl was asked after the game if he thought his young Cowboy team was starting to learn how to win, Bohl replied, “I think so. Air Force came in 4-0, and we only had a week to prepare for a complex scheme. We did get up, made some plays and we beat a good team. It’s another big step for our program.
“It’s been a process. Certainly stopping the two-point conversion was huge. We have worked on that situation many times. Most of the time that never comes up, but you have to prepare for a lot of things. It was a huge shift in the game followed by recovering the onside kick.”
Senior linebacker Wacha was asked about his recovery and return of the onside kick, as well as the stop of the two-point conversion. “I guess they say I have pretty good hands,” Wacha laughed. “I don’t know if it’s true. Someone bobbled it, and I picked it up. Should have probably went down right away.
“I was right behind Josiah (Hall) on the two-point conversion. It was a huge stop. Changed the momentum of the game.”
Wyoming will have a bye week this coming week. The Cowboys will return to action on Oct. 22 on the road at Nevada. That game will be televised on one of the ESPN Networks.