The home finale. The program’s first 10-win regular-season in 20 years up for grabs. A national ranking potentially hangs in the balance. An opponent tries to run its win streak to four straight in the series. A strength-on-strength matchup presents itself between teams built to run the ball and stop the run.
And it could be played in a frigid Falcon Stadium, conjuring an old-school feel from two programs that don’t mind that association.
It’s only fitting that Air Force and Wyoming will meet at high noon on Saturday.
“Sounds like some kind of epic final battle,” said Air Force linebacker Kyle Johnson, one of 31 seniors making their home farewell. “Everybody’s excited.”
The Falcons (9-2, 6-1 Mountain West) don’t seem in danger of simply playing out the stretch in this one after seeing the last bit of hope for a conference championship taken away by a Boise State victory over Utah State last week. The senior class has never beaten Wyoming (7-4, 4-3), which has won three in a row over the Falcons and five of the past six. Air Force is playing for bowl placement and, perhaps, a Top 25 ranking that would check off one of the major goals for a team that, despite its success, has seen its biggest objectives (winning the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy, playing for a conference title) fall just out of reach.
“It would mean a lot,” defensive lineman Mosese Fifita said. “I think the guys can feel it’s a big week. Wyoming’s a good football team. It’s going to be a challenge.”
The challenge will come from a program built on some of the same principles as the Falcons. Air Force ranks first in the Mountain West in rushing offense and third in rushing defense. Wyoming is second in both categories. They’re the league’s top two teams in red zone defense. These stats have a common thread – they can’t be faked. Only when tenacity meets consistency can a team regularly over a season run, stop the run and prevent opponents from finishing drives.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Air Force, obviously, prides itself on finding cadet-athletes willing to fully throw themselves into something larger. Wyoming, in its way, has done the same. Coach Craig Bohl saw as a longtime defensive assistant under Tom Osborne and Frank Solich at Nebraska, before a dominant run at North Dakota State, how being the biggest draw in a state can become an asset through in-state recruiting that taps into the area’s no-frills vibe.
“There are more Wyoming kids than there have ever been,” said Cowboys linebacker Logan Wilson, one of three finalists for the Butkus Award and a native of Casper, Wyo. “Most of them will give everything they have. This was my dream school.”
It was pride, the Air Force seniors said, that motivated them to change the team culture and move past consecutive 5-7 seasons to enjoy the success they’ve had this year in a season marred only by close road losses to No. 20 Boise State and No. 24 Navy.
“I think it’s probably the most complete Air Force team that we’ve faced since I’ve been our head coach,” Bohl said.
Six of the past nine meetings in this series have been decided by one possession, including last year when the Cowboys ripped away bowl eligibility from Air Force by scoring 21 points in the final 4 ½ minutes.
Much can be settled on Saturday.
“It kind of seems like a final showdown,” Fifita said. “They’re definitely one of the upper-tier teams in the Mountain West. It will be exciting. It will be fun to compete.”