Billed as the Game of the Year in the MWC, the showdown between Air Force and Wyoming lived up to it’s billing. John Lee Eldridge provided the margin of victory with his 58 yard touchdown dash down the sideline with 2:17 left on the clock, but there were plenty of fireworks leading up to the end result.
Wyoming came out strong with QB Andrew Peasley providing most of the offense on back to back touchdown drives. On the first drive, Peasley ran the ball 5 times for 42 yards and a touchdown, and threw a pass for 22 yards. The Falcons quickly went three and out after missing on a long pass downfield, and Peasley drove the Cowboys to another touchdown with his arm, completing 3 of 5 passes for 56 yards.
The Falcons then got to work digging out of their hole. Zac Larrier was the main attraction on an 8 play, 75 yard drive. Larrier provided 47 yards on three carries before Owen Burk got the touchdown with a 15 yard run up the middle.
The next two drives had significant events that would set the tone for special team play later in the game. Wyoming got the ball and began driving for another score, but the Falcon defense finally stiffened and forced a field goal from 45 yards out. The normally reliable John Hoyland trotted on the field and then sent the kick wide to hand the ball back to the Falcons. The Falcon drive stalled near mid field and the punting team came on for the kick. The snap instead went to Owen Burk, who scampered to the right for a 39 yard gain. On the next play Larrier hit John Lee Eldridge for a 17 yard touchdown that tied the game up.
The half finished with the score 21-17 Wyoming after yet another touchdown by the Cowboys and a field goal from the Falcons.
The Falcons took command in the second half with a touchdown drive followed by a defensive stop on the Cowboys and then a 43 yard field goal by Matthew Dapore. However on the final play before the kick, Zac Larrier injured his knee on the tackle and left the game for the locker room. It would turn out to be a fateful turn of events.
The next two snaps for the offense were disastrous for the Falcons. First, backup QB Jensen Jones and fullback Emanuel Michel mishandled a handoff, which the Cowboys quickly turned into a 25 yard touchdown drive. The good news was that the special teams once again came up with a big play as Trey Taylor blocked the extra point, leaving the score tied at 27.
On the next snap, LB Easton Gibbs stripped the ball from Jones and Wyoming immediately got the ball back at the Falcon 28 yard line.
This time, it was the defense’s turn for the big play. Bo Richter came up with a big sack on third down to force a field goal from 52 yards out. It was far enough out that Hoyland once again sent the kick wide, thus preserving the tie game.
The Falcons got the ball back and on third down with just over 2 minutes left in the game, it was time for JLE3.
Eldridge’s run provided the final 34-27 margin, but the seven point spread was equivalent to the two missed field goals and the blocked extra point. Add to that the fake punt that led to a touchdown for the Falcons, and the victory can be attributed to the special teams. The two teams offenses and defense essentially played to a standstill. This game was also quite the role reversal for Wyoming. Throughout the season, Wyoming has come up with big plays when they needed them, but this weekend, it was the Falcons who were the more opportune team.
The Falcon’s next game will be in Annapolis (I’ll be there) against Navy for the first leg of the journey to retain the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy at it’s rightful residence at the U.S. Air Force Academy.