BOISE, Idaho – Now, the telling part.
Air Force rode the glow of its overtime victory at Colorado into a matchup with No. 20 Boise State, only to be turned away in crushing fashion in a 30-19 defeat Friday night.
It was a game the Falcons led 7-0 and 13-10. Had two fourth-down attempts — one converted by Boise State’s offense, one stuffed by the Broncos’ defense — gone the other way, this could have been a different game. The teams tied 355-355 in total offense and the Falcons possessed the ball for nearly 10 more minutes in a stadium where Boise State has dominated its visitors with a 116-9 record since 2000.
All this despite an apparent ankle injury that prompted Air Force (2-1, 0-1 Mountain West) to keep quarterback Donald Hammond III on the sidelines for most of the third quarter.
If the proverbial moral victory was the goal — mission accomplished. But that’s not what this confident group sought against the Broncos (4-0, 1-0).
“It sucks to lose,” junior outside linebacker Lakota Wills said. “No one likes losing. Every time we lose it’s a sour feeling.”
Where they go from here figures to be what matters. San Jose State visits Falcon Stadium on Friday night in what will likely provide the biggest point-spread in favor of the Falcons for the remainder of the season. Then Air Force visits Navy. Fresno State, Hawaii, Utah State and Army follow. So much remains in this year.
“It’s the real test of a good team to show how you come back from a loss,” senior fullback Taven Birdow said after running for a team-high 67 yards on 18 carries. “I think the way we come back from this loss is going to show how good we are.”
In recent years, the Falcons have struggled after their first loss. Last year the first loss was followed by two more. In 2017, one loss quickly turned into a four-game losing streak. In 2016, one loss snowballed into two more — the only losses in a 10-3 season.
It hasn’t been since 2014 that the Falcons rebounded from their first loss with a victory.
“I am frustrated. It was a big opportunity,” linebacker Demonte Meeks said. “But at the same time, we played our (butts) off and did what we could do and competed. Even though this was a loss, we just look forward and tackle the next team.
“We just need to keep working on us and keep playing.”
There is strong belief around Air Force that it has the ingredients in place for a strong season, and Boise State coach Bryan Harsin agrees with that position.
“This is the best Air Force team I think we have faced, I really do,” Harsin said. “I know their quarterback got dinged tonight. He’s a really good player so they went back and forth with the other quarterback. We have tremendous respect for Air Force and what they do, how they play and what type of people they are.”
Air Force hasn’t strayed from that belief in its words.
“We’re a great team,” Wills reiterated outside his team’s locker room late Friday night.
In a week, they’ll get a chance to prove they can rebound like a great team.
Air Force's Lakota Wills earns the spot with three tackles for the loss and a blocked PAT.
For each Air Force game, we identify three areas to track during the game. Here's how they played out at Boise State.