FRESNO, Calif. – Air Force is heading to a bowl game for the sixth straight season, but the Falcons are limping as they complete the journey.
Fresno State pulverized the Falcons, 48-15, Saturday at Bulldog Stadium. The rout deepened Air Force’s recent slump.
As the game ended, Fresno State players gathered in the middle of the field for a brief party while the Falcons trudged toward their locker room.
It wasn’t long ago the Falcons were the ones celebrating. On Oct. 26, Air Force rampaged to a 48-31 win over Nevada at Falcon Stadium. The Falcons were rolling with a three-game win streak.
Since then, the Falcons have lost three of four games. They were pushed around at Army.
They bumbled, suffering from fumbles and interceptions, to a loss at San Diego State.
And they were trounced on a gorgeous, breezy Saturday afternoon in California. The Bulldogs jumped to a 31-7 lead and never looked back. Fresno State (9-3 overall, 7-1 Mountain West), coached by Air Force alum Tim DeRuyter, claimed a share of the Mountain West title.
Air Force (6-6, 5-3) have been outscored 135-66 in its last four games and must regroup as it prepares for the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, which will be played Dec. 29 in Fort Worth.
Can the Falcons revive?
“We’ve got to,” answered senior linebacker Alex Means. “That’s our only option. You either lay down and die, or you turn things around.”
Senior offensive tackle Jason Kons formulated a simple plan for disposing of Air Force’s recent struggles. He plans to forget the team’s woes as he prepares for the bowl game.
“You’ve just got to put it behind you,” he said. “As sad as it is to say that, that’s really all you can do. That’s the cure. You put it behind you and you move on.”
The Falcons will have a lot to put behind them. They fell into trouble against the Bulldogs almost instantly. On Fresno’s second play from scrimmage, quarterback Derek Carr found Davante Adams with a short pass. Adams turned the throw into a 64-yard touchdown, dancing past Air Force defensive back Chris Miller on his way to the end zone.
On Air Force’s next drive, quarterback Connor Dietz fumbled after a brutal blindside hit, and the Bulldogs struck again with another two-play scoring drive. Carr threw a looping pass to the end zone, where Isaiah Burse outbattled Miller for the ball.
The Bulldogs had run four offensive plays, but they were enough to grab a 14-0 lead. Air Force never mounted a serious threat.
“That was a huge shot to the gut,” Means said of Fresno’s fast start.
Carr, a junior, throttled the Falcons secondary for 452 yards and four touchdowns before being pulled midway through the fourth quarter. He completed 28 of 32 passes while barely being bothered by Air Force’s pass rush.
His overwhelming performance will add fuel to rumors he will forsake his senior season and instead depart for the NFL draft.