Falcons move to 2-0 with win at Wyoming

Air Force defensive end Jake Paulson (95) and nose guard Ben Garland celebrated over Wyoming quarterback Dax Crum after Paulson sacked him during the first quarter Saturday afternoon in Laramie, Wyo. Photo by KEVIN KRECK, THE GAZETTE

LARAMIE, Wyo. • In a game decided by defense, Air Force's was downright dominant.

In front of an announced crowd of 23,168 at War Memorial Stadium, the Falcons limited Wyoming to only 216 yards of offense and forced five turnovers - three of which led to scores - to key a 23-3 victory over the Cowboys.

In the Mountain West Conference opener for both teams, the Falcons improved to 2-0. Wyoming, which has dropped three straight to Air Force, fell to 1-1.

"Our defense played very, very hard," Wyoming coach Joe Glenn said. "Air Force's defense was just too hard for us."

Air Force's defense also took pressure off the Falcons' offense, which contributed to the victory mostly by avoiding mistakes - it committed one turnover - and making just enough plays.

"It gives us a comfort zone, for sure," senior quarterback Shea Smith said of the defense. "Offensively, we don't have to force things. We can feel confident in what we're doing running it or throwing it if we have to, which we didn't today. But just taking care of the ball and letting our defense make plays for us worked out today."

Air Force compiled 279 yards, including only 15 through the air. Its lone big offensive play was a 74-yard run by sophomore Kyle Halderman late in the third quarter, which led to a 1-yard plunge by Smith and a 13-3 lead. And the Falcons' lone extended drive, a 12-play, 56-yard march, culminated in a game-clinching touchdown by fullback Todd Newell with 2 minutes, 27 seconds to play.

Neither team could do much offensively in the first half, and turnovers set up both teams' scores.

Early in the second quarter, Air Force junior strong safety Chris Thomas blitzed and drilled quarterback Dax Crum in the back, forcing a fumble that senior defensive end Ryan Kemp recovered on the Cowboys' 38-yard line. Air Force picked up a first down but settled for a 40-yard field goal by Ryan Harrison.

Then, late in the quarter, Wyoming linebacker Ward Dobbs picked off a pass by Smith and returned it 22 yards to the Air Force 31-yard line. Three plays later, Wyoming's Jake Scott kicked a 47-yard field goal to tie the score.

On Wyoming's first offensive play of the second half, Thomas made another big play, diving on a fumble by Wyoming's Wynel Seldon at the Cowboys' 12-yard line. Air Force reached the 5 before it stalled, leading to another Harrison field goal.

The field goal held up as the game-winner, as Wyoming's next six possessions ended in four punts and two turnovers. The Cowboys gained only 90 yards in those six drives and even tried switching quarterbacks after Crum was picked off by Brandon Reeves early in the fourth quarter. But Karsten Sween, who started most of last season's games, could get the Cowboys only 4 yards.

Wyoming's last offensive chance ended fittingly with defensive end Jake Paulson sacking Crum and forcing a fumble that Rick Ricketts recovered.

"Coach (Troy Calhoun) told us all week the team that makes the least turnovers will win this game," Smith said. "And our defense played just phenomenal.

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