LARAMIE, Wyo. • Air Force was getting pulverized in the cold Wyoming rain, but the pounding only served to awaken the Falcons.
Air Force escaped with a dramatic, unlikely and rancorous 28-27 victory over Wyoming at War Memorial Stadium.
Coach Troy Calhoun switched to boxing terms as he described the Falcons’ troubles. Air Force fell behind 21-7, 27-14 and several times looked knocked out.
“You’re on the ropes and getting hit on the mouth and hit on the nose and hit in the ear,” Calhoun said, his head bobbing as he spoke.
With 14:28 left, Air Force took over at its 33-yard line. The Falcons trailed, 27-21, and memories of last week’s surrender to Navy were fresh and painful.
Air Force marched, slowly, to the winning touchdown. The rally lifted the Falcons to 3-3 overall and 2-1 in the Mountain West and dropped Wyoming to 1-5, 0-2.
But the drive wasn’t easy. It required 16 plays and a huge gamble by Calhoun on a fourth and 1 on his 42.
The drive ended with another gamble at the Wyoming 5-yard line. Starting quarterback Connor Dietz was on the bench after he lost his helmet and was forced to miss a play. Tailback Cody Getz, the team’s leading rusher, was standing on the sideline, out with an injured ankle.
The depleted Air Force offense was forced to go for the game-winner with a sophomore quarterback named Kale Pearson.
Offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen made a bold move, calling a bootleg play. Pearson took two steps left and then reversed to go right. The call did not fool all of the Cowboys.
“I knew it was going to be close,” Pearson said. “I knew right from when I turned around that I might have to dive.”
Linebacker Alex Means had no idea about the call. He watched from the sideline as Pearson took the snap.
“I didn’t even know what was going on until I saw him go around the end,” Means said. “I said, ‘Oh, God, please let him get in the end zone.’”
Pearson is one of Air Force’s faster players, and he won the sprint to the goal line. It was exceedingly close. He took to the air, colliding with Wyoming defenders before flying just inside the corner of the end zone.
At first, officials ruled Pearson had come almost a yard short, but after review Air Force was awarded the go-ahead touchdown.
The touchdown ended a spirited Air Force rally. At halftime, the Falcons trailed 24-14. Air Force’s defense had allowed 322 yards and 24 first downs while allowing Wyoming freshman quarterback Jason Thompson to complete 22 of 27 passes.
The defense recovered to allow only three points in the second half. Wyoming had a chance to answer Pearson’s touchdown, but the Cowboys’ attack sputtered. Chris Miller knocked down a fourth-down pass by Thompson with 5:29 left, and Dietz returned to lead Air Force on a 40-yard drive that ran out the clock.
When the game ended, Wyoming coach Dave Christensen declined to shake hands with Troy Calhoun. Christensen instead spent a few seconds shouting at Calhoun
What was said?
“It’s not a conversation that I have with my mom,” Calhoun said. “Not that kind of dialogue.”
Christensen said he was upset by Dietz’s exit after losing his helmet. Dietz took several steps toward the Air Force sideline before falling to his knees and holding his head. He said after the game that his head felt “great.”
The slow exit bothered Christensen. He suggested Dietz was not really injured, and he said the ploy allowed Air Force to stop the clock without using a timeout.
"That's a pretty good trick," he said. "I really question ethics when people do that stuff."