Air Force has spent the week trying to rinse the taste of defeat from its mouths. It’s a familiar flavor for many of its players.

In 2019, the Falcons lost in the closing moments to Navy. It was their second loss in three games. Their Commander-in-Chief’s trophy hopes were dashed and, because they had lost two weeks earlier at Boise State, their conference chances were all but gone.

It was rock bottom.

And for the rest of the season, eight games, they didn’t lose again.

“It was a similar,” said Vince Sanford, who had a team-high nine tackles, including two for a loss, in last week’s 49-45 loss to Utah State. “Just pain.

“As a team, we had to lick our wounds in 2019 just like now. We came back with a different motivation, knowing what we had to do. I feel like that’s what we’re going to do again.”

Many factors went into making the loss to the Aggies so crushing.

First, it came with major implications. Utah State doesn’t have to play Fresno State or San Diego State — perhaps the top two teams from West Division — and it hosts Boise State and Wyoming, probably the other top contenders from the Mountain Division. In short, Air Force now faces long odds of catching the Aggies in the division, considering the head-to-head tiebreaker would belong to Utah State and there may not be many losses in the Aggies' future.

Second, it was a game Air Force obviously could have won. A turnover in the red zone, a blown 11-point lead in the fourth quarter, a lost fumble on the potential game-winning drive. "No one likes to lose like that,” guard Isaac Cochran said.

But perhaps the biggest downer came in the form of a dose of reality. For many Falcons, their last action came in that 2019 season. Multiple players, including Sanford, Cochran and defensive mainstays like Demonte Meeks, Tre Bugg, Jordan Jackson and Christopher Herrera hadn’t played since that season-ending eight-game winning streak that culminated in a No. 21 national ranking.

Sure, they knew virtually every other team nationally had an edge when it came to experience. But internally there was a confidence, a sense of invincibility, that Utah State shook with its 628 total yards of offense and five second-half touchdowns.

“I think it’s something that every team needs,” Sanford said. “We didn’t lose any confidence, don’t get me wrong by that. We’re still very confident. We know what we’re capable of. It’s just that that was first big challenge we had as a defense and we just came up short.”

The good news — maybe — is that the Falcons (2-1) have a chance to right those wrongs immediately as Florida Atlantic (2-1) comes to Falcon Stadium on Saturday evening with a similar offense, an experienced coaching staff, and a roster full of top-shelf talent.

Opportunities for redemption in college football seldom come so quickly and in with so much similarities.

What’s more, the Owls beat the Falcons in their lone meeting in Boca Raton, Fla., in 2018, and many of these Falcons were part of the program at that point, too.

Falcons players said they tapped into the memory bank to take cues from their reaction in 2019, and part of that was simply upping the intensity in practice. There will also be some lineup changes. Look for Trey Taylor and James Jones IV to see action in the defensive secondary. Wesley Ndago could be given an expanded role on the offensive line.

But there won’t be a magical, quick fix; unless it’s something Air Force finds from within. And it’s something it has been able to manufacture in the past with much of this same group.

“I think it’s kind of good we had this now,” said Jackson, who blocked a PAT in last week’s loss. “I’d rather have this happen early in the season rather than late in the season. Get us back on track.

“Bounce back. That’s all we can do.”

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