Air Force football returned to practice Monday, trying to wash away a taste that is sure to linger for a while.

Saturday’s 34-25 loss at Navy, in which the Falcons lost the lead with 23 seconds remaining, isn’t just one anyone easily moves past.

“It’s tough. It really hurt,” senior defensive lineman Jake Ksiazek said. “The flight back was rough and the past couple of days have been rough, but you can’t let them beat us twice. The rest of our story is unwritten.”

Senior receiver Geraud Sanders caught three passes for 44 yards but said he took blame for a few drops that might have bolstered the Falcons’ chances.

“It’s tough as a senior to lose that game,” Sanders said. “Our seniors’ goal was to get to the White House. But as a winner, competitor and someone who wants to get better every day you’ve just got to take that next step.”

For the non-seniors, there was a sense that the loss needs be forgotten yet remembered.

“Usually you try to forget about a loss,” said junior offensive tackle Parker Ferguson, “but this one you might kind of let soak a little a bit and use it as motivation in the offseason.”

That’s the approach fellow junior Demonte Meeks is taking.

“We’ll definitely remember the feel as young guys,” said Meeks, who made a team-high 11 tackles in the loss. “But it’s on to the next one. But we can’t let this stop our progress.

“I’m confident in our team. I’m confident in our ability to rally.”

Yet another junior, quarterback Donald Hammond III, tried to shoulder the burden.

“this one is on me..” he tweeted early Sunday morning.

Expect Fresno State to have little sympathy Saturday when it visits Falcon Stadium.

The Bulldogs also have two disappointing losses this season — 31-23 at USC and 38-35 against Minnesota — and coach Jeff Tedford’s team is eyeing a third consecutive Mountain West West Division title.

The Bulldogs (2-2, 0-0) had an extra week to prepare for this matchup, which opens eight consecutive weeks of Mountain West games for them.

It will catch an Air Force team that, despite holding leads deep in the second half of its two losses, faces an uphill climb to get in position for a division title and is out of the running for the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy.

Those were the kinds of losses — particularly at Navy — that can knock the wind out of a team’s sails. Now, Air Force will see if it can manufacture a second wind on its own.

“Two losses in the season and we’ve still got nine games to go,” said defensive end Jordan Jackson, whose quick math would indicate Air Force is going to play in the Mountain West championship game as well as a bowl game. “We’re good.”

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