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Air Force offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Thiessen runs drills during practice at the Air Force Academy on the practice fields on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

The fourth quarter of Air Force’s final game might prove to be as important for developing the team’s depth than the month that has followed it.

In that game the Falcons, who were shorthanded to begin with as players like quarterback Haaziq Daniels, tailback DeAndre Hughes and slot receiver Dane Kinamon were out, emptied even more of their bench late in what was their only victory by more than two touchdowns since Oct. 2.

Air Force utilized 13 ball-carriers in the 48-14 victory that was achieved without a pass attempt and 76 players saw action.

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“This year we have had so many close games that we really haven’t had that opportunity to play some extra guys,” coach Troy Calhoun said. “I always thought if you could have two or three games where you can get in some other guys, where you really see the benefit is when you get in the weight room in January or February. All of the sudden I’ve been popped in the nose a couple of times and say, “Whoa, there’s a reason I need to back squat.’

“Hopefully that happened a little bit. You get your teeth rattled, you don’t forget those. And that happened a couple of times.”

Even though the Falcons will see more than a month tick away between that game and the First Responders Bowl on Tuesday against Louisville, they didn’t exactly have an extra month of practice. The team focused on lifting weights for the first week after the Nov. 26 regular-season finale as the coaches recruited. Then came finals, where Calhoun opted to not practice. They finally returned to the practice field for a pair of sessions on Dec. 14 and 15 before dismissing the team until Dec. 23, when they reconvened in Dallas and began what has amounted to a typical game week of preparation.

So, the total number of extra practices gained by playing in a bowl game – and this late – ended up at around eight.

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A few silver linings can be found. First, that last game provided value perhaps beyond extra practices. Second, the team is adept at working in practice time to develop young players. Third, teams around the conference are seeing players flee for the transfer portal.

So, even if it wasn’t a full month of extra practices, the Falcons certainly gained by earning a bowl game and one played so late in December.

“The date works more than fine,” Calhoun said.

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