Aztecs started confidently with the first score, but the Falcons quickly snuffed out the flame of hope in a 49-10 demolishing.
It was a perfect evening for football in Colorado Springs. The pomp and pageantry of Academy football were on full display among the announced crowd of 24,869 ready to see the Falcons take on the Aztecs. The Falcons were favored by 10 points and it was expected defense would prevail. First to strike were the Aztecs on what was undoubtedly the best drive of the season. Jaylen Mayden managed a 17-play, 80-yard drive culminating with a 21-yard scoring strike to Josh Nicholson. This gave the Aztecs (2-4, 0-2 MWC) a surprising early lead against the Falcons (5-0, 3-0 MWC). Much like the previous week when the Falcons fell behind San Jose State 20-3, they found themselves requiring patience until their well-oiled triple option began firing on all cylinders. The Falcons scored on the next three drives: RB Cade Harris on a 7-yard run, RB Emmanuel Michel on a 2-yard run, and Michel again on a 3-yard run. Approaching half the Falcons had sprung to a 21-7 lead. The Aztecs got the ball back with 43 seconds remaining and moved to the Falcons 44-yard line. Kicker Jack Browning was brought on to attempt a 56-yard field goal. As luck would have it, the Aztecs had a false start, moving them back 5-yards. This would make it a 61-yard kick. There was altitude and Browning had a good week of kicking, so coach Hoke decided to let him try it. The kick wound up being good with plenty of distance that it’s possible it would have been good from 65+ yards. The 61-yard kick was a stadium, school, and conference record. Heading into halftime the Aztecs were only down 21-10. Little did they know, their offense would take the rest of the evening off.
Second Half Siesta for the Aztecs leads to 0-2 Conference Start
Unfortunately for the Aztecs, Air Force waited until the second half to release their surprise secret weapon: the forward pass. Quarterback Zac Larrier, fresh off his success in guiding the Falcons rushing game, introduced his proficiency at passing. He led the Falcons to two long strikes through the air. The first was a 54-yard pass to Cade Harris and the second, was a 53-yard pass, on a nicely executed route and catch by WR Jared Roznos. Halfway through the third period, the Aztecs found themselves in a 35-10 deficit. On the first play from scrimmage, Mayden dropped back to pass and his throw ended up in the hands of Falcon Safety Trey Taylor and he took it 30 yards to the house for a 42-10 lead. The Falcons finished the scoring on a 4-yard run by backup QB Jensen Jones. The second half proved futile for the Aztecs offense as they managed drives of 7 plays for 14 yards until their last drive where they ran out of downs after a 13-play, 57-yard drive. The Aztecs found it hard to move on the Falcons defense. 6 of their drives were for 4 or less plays. Jack Browning was called on for 5 punts to try and flip the field. He averaged 46.4 yards on his punts.
Air Force showed offensive balance, while the Aztecs stumbled and struggled on both sides of the ball
Air Force showed they are a team to be taken seriously as they now have a quarterback who is extremely capable of throwing the ball. The Falcons wound up 6/7 passing for 189 yards, an amazing 27-yard average. They were statistically superior across all metrics. 24 first downs compared to 14 for the Aztecs. 287 rushing yards on 52 carries while the Aztecs only managed 105 yards. Air Force totaled 476 yards of offense while the Aztecs sputtered to a measly 227. The Aztecs seemed stymied and stifled by Air Force most of the evening. No one stood out on an Aztec team that is seriously looking at being bowl-eligible. Mayden was a paltry 13/24 passing for 122 yards, 1 TD, and the 1 costly pick. Kenan Christon carried 14 times for 58 yards. He managed to record the team's long play of the evening, 22 yards. Jaylon Armstead managed 18 yards and Mayden added 17 more. What had been exciting the previous week from the passing game, was squelched early. Tight End Mark Redman was the leader with only 27 yards receiving. Josh Nicholson had his one 21-yard TD catch. Freshman Baylin Brooks, who had a breakout game last week, accounted for only one catch for 16 yards. Senior Brionne Penny, who was needed to help break out the Aztec passing game, was quiet with 2 catches for 9 yards. Aztec defenders were busy as well with Zyrus Fiaseu leading the way with 9 tackles and Dez Malone, Cody Moon, and Eric Butler all adding 6 each. For a team that ran 52 times, only 3 of those carries resulted in a loss, giving credit to the Falcons' offensive line, which could be one of the best in the country.
The Aztecs failed to cover the spread, losing by 39 against a 10 point margin. The over won with 59 points scored against a 45 over/under. Next week the Falcons host Wyoming at home, which could be one of the early conference leadership games. The winner will have a strong track along with Fresno State, a convincing 27-9 winner against Nevada. Air Force does not play the Bulldogs, potentially setting up a championship game matchup. Meanwhile, the Aztecs have a much-needed bye week before they head into the second half of the season. Despite the 2-4 start, the Aztecs have played tough teams with UCLA, Oregon State, Boise State and Air Force. The next games look like winnable games. Following the bye week, the Aztecs travel to Hawaii who is 2-4 on the year. Playing on the islands is tough and Hawaii has a formidable passing game, it might play to the Aztecs strength. Following this is a game against Nevada at home. The Wolfpack is 0-5 on the year, but have slowly been making inroads towards their first win. Following that is another bye week. Hopefully, these weeks off will allow the Aztecs the opportunity to find some way to salvage the remainder of their season. Finally, Coach Hoke expressed his disappointment with both the coaches and execution. Is it possible this might be his last season? Fans are disappointed at the consistent disappointment. Expectations were high for the program this year. Of course they would not be on par with the Aztecs basketball team, but at least being competitive in the tough games was hoped for. The next few games will determine the outcome of the coach and his staff. Meanwhile, it’s onto an off week to work on the rest of the season and prepare for a visit to Hawaii.