Brad Roberts tried to put the Air Force offense on his shoulders again, and he was almost successful.
The junior fullback ran for 140 yards on a career-high 33 carries, extending his Mountain West lead in rushing.
But to secure this 24-14 victory over Wyoming, the Falcons had to find a complement to the run. And that’s where quarterback Haaziq Daniels and the passing game entered.
“Coach was saying at halftime that we were going to have to open it up because they were stopping the run pretty well in the second quarter,” Daniels said. “He just said be ready.”
Daniels was ready, throwing for 110 yards on 7-of-10 passing – all in the second half – as the Falcons regained their footing after seeing their 14-0 lead disappear.
Daniels connected with Brandon Lewis on five passes for 77 yards and hit Micah Davis twice for 44 yards, including the team’s second passing touchdown of the season on a 14-yard grab that he finished with a dive to the pylon.
“Brandon’s first catch, that was well outside the radius. Great pluck,” coach Troy Calhoun said when asked about the performance of the receivers. “And certainly the effort to get into the end zone from Micah.”
After rushing for 400 yards in three consecutive weeks, this was the first time in a while Air Force had to search for different answers on offense. It didn’t start that way. They opened with an 8-minute, 18-second drive, the longest of the season, that included 55 yards from Roberts. They then added another touchdown and led 140-5 in total yards and had picked up all 10 of the game’s first downs at one point.
The Falcons had helped themselves at that point by converting three fourth downs.
Then Wyoming sprang to life, starting with a 76-yard run from Xazavian Valladay that might have gone for 97 yards had Tre’ Bugg not run down the all-Mountain West running back from behind.
“I just looked at the pylon and just started running,” Bugg said. “I wasn’t thinking if I was I was going to be able to get him or not, I was just going to try my hardest.
“It’s just one of those things where you talk about effort on the field.”
Valladay finished with 96 rushing yards as Air Force remains the only Mountain Division team that hasn’t seen him go for 100-plus yards.
Wyoming had taken the ball on its 3-yard line after Air Force opted to punt on a 4th and 2 – the second straight drive the Falcons opted to punt on short yardage near midfield after earlier converting in those spots.
Calhoun explained that the yardage was closer to 2 ½ or 3 yards in those spots.
With Air Force suddenly unable to maintain drives – going three and out on three consecutive possessions – Wyoming found a rhythm and added a 73-yard scoring drive just before halftime to tie the game.
Ultimately, with Daniels and the offense finding a different way to approach the second half and the defense continuing its high level of play; the bleeding stopped and the Falcons improved to 5-1 for the first time since 2010. The Falcons are 2-1 in the Mountain West.
Wyoming’s last two drives ended with a Vince Sanford strip sack – he forced two fumbles – and a Jordan Jackson sack on the game’s final play.
“When we watch the tape, it’s going to make my stomach turn,” Wyoming (4-1, 0-1) coach Craig Bohl told the Casper Tribune. “When we watch the tape, it’s going to make my stomach turn.”
The feeling stopped short of euphoria for Air Force, as the team knows this was the start of a run that includes a trip to Boise State next week, a home date with San Diego State after that and then a showdown with Army in Dallas, but there was certainly satisfaction in the home locker room.
“We’re proving to ourselves and to everybody else what kind of team we can be,” Sanford said. “It just starts now, we’ve just got to keep the ball rolling.”