BOISE, Idaho – Two fourth down plays. No. 20 Boise State converted. Air Force did not.
As decisive as the 30-19 final score in the Broncos’ victory may have eventually looked, it all hinged on those two plays.
The Broncos used a 13-yard completion from freshman quarterback Hank Bachmeier to Akilian Butler on 4th and 10 to continue a touchdown-scoring drive that propelled Boise State to a 17-13 lead late in the third quarter.
The Falcons tried to answer on 4th and 1 from on the following drive, but fullback Taven Birdow was stopped short.
That span of 3 minutes changed the game, and the Falcons couldn’t keep up after that.
“Everything happens quickly,” Birdow said. “You’ve got to take advantage of the ball when you have it. Our offense runs on converting. Especially fourth and 1, we’ve got to do that. We’re going to have to work on that, go back to the lab and see what happens.”
The Falcons’ play call was an option, putting the decision in quarterback Donald Hammond III’s hands. Coach Troy Calhoun said he agreed with Hammond’s decision to go to Birdow in that situation — even though he was hit immediately after receiving the ball.
Hammond was not permitted to talk with media, per Calhoun’s decision made early in the week.
“They’d been stopping that play all day,” Birdow said. “But I’ve got to get that one yard. I put that one on me.”
Asked to describe the coverage on Boise State’s 4th-and-10 conversion — as Butler seemed to have several yards worth of cushion from the secondary — Calhoun would not address it.
“They’re a really, really good team,” Calhoun said. “They are. Hats off to Boise. They have a good squad. Our guys played hard, their guys played hard.”
Air Force (2-1) had to play without Hammond during the third quarter after he appeared to roll an ankle late in the first half and backup Isaiah Sanders took over after halftime.
“We just wanted to make sure he was healthy and ready to go,” Calhoun said.
Sanders went 2-of-2 passing for 30 yards and ran twice for 5 yards. He led two drives, one of which resulted in a field goal.
Hammond returned late in the third quarter. He went 6-of-11 passing for 83 yards and a touchdown while running 12 times for 62 yards, including an 8-yard score that put the Falcons up 7-0. He threw an interception that the Broncos capitalized on to make it a three-score game late in the fourth quarter.
Air Force’s defense sprang out to a particularly strong start, as Boise State (4-0) had more punts (3) than completed passes (2) in the first quarter.
“We attacked pretty well. We had some good stops early on,” said linebacker Demonte Meeks, who made six stops for Air Force. “It was anybody’s game going into the half, so I think we did what we needed to do in the first half.”
And after that?
“You know, they just made a few more big plays than we had an answer to.”
The teams finished tied 355-355 in total yards. Air Force ran for 242 of its total, while Boise State passed for 260.
Air Force led 19-17 in first downs and by nearly 10 minutes in time of possession.
“This one hurts,” Birdow said. “We had our minds set on winning this game. We wanted to win this game bad.”