AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – The team’s best player put its latest loss on him.
University of Wyoming sophomore running back Brian Hill lost two fumbles, the second coming during a critical stretch late in the third quarter that led to an Air Force touchdown and ultimately a 31-17 Cowboys loss late Saturday night in front of 22,023 at Falcon Stadium.
“I put this one on me. They scored twice off my turnovers. That shouldn’t have happened,” a dejected Hill said.
But it did as UW fell to 0-6 on the season, 0-2 in Mountain West play. All six losses have been by double-digits.
It’s the Cowboys worst start since 1939, and they’ve lost nine consecutive games dating back to last season.
UW committed a season-high four turnovers Saturday and Air Force scored 21 points off those miscues.
Hill’s first fumble led to Air Force's only touchdown in the first half, which gave it a 7-3 halftime lead.
The back-breaker came late in the third quarter.
Air Force scored to extend its lead to 14-3. UW’s offense was stymied much of the game, but it put together its best offensive drive to that point and had second-and-goal at the Air Force 5-yard line.
Hill took a hand-off, similar to the play he fumbled on in the first half, and dropped the ball. Air Force recovered and not long after that used a wide receiver pass for a 56-yard touchdown and a 21-3 lead with 14:37 to play.
“What’s disappointing is (both fumbles) came off a common play that we have,” second-year UW coach Craig Bohl said. “I don’t know if the mesh point was high (on the first fumble). I know Brian looked away (on the second fumble). He feels bad about it.”
Hill had 24 carries for 128 yards, his eighth 100-yard game of his career. UW is 1-7 in those games.
However, Hill wasn’t the only one turning the ball over.
Redshirt senior quarterback Cameron Coffman threw his second interception on UW’s next drive following Hills’s second fumble. Air Force answered with a 46-yard run by junior fullback Shayne Davern.
Less than a minute into the fourth quarter, UW trailed 28-3 and the game was over.
UW did a lot of the same things to lose this game as it did in the previous five. The defense gave up two big plays for touchdowns. It has allowed 12 plays of 30 yards or more for touchdowns this season, including two in this game.
The offense sputtered and, most of the time, had no answer for Air Force’s blitzes and line stunts. As a result, Coffman was sacked four times.
“They brought a lot of pressure – a lot of cover-zero blitz – and we didn’t handle it as well as we should have,” Coffman said. "For as bad as we played in the first half (51 yards on 26 plays), we were only down four points. The offense has to carry our load.”
The Cowboys scored a couple of fourth-quarter touchdowns, which we’ve also seen the last few weeks. Those scores showed that they didn’t lay down and quit after being down.
That’s good, but it didn’t change the final outcome. If anything, it just padded the stats.
What was different was the play of UW’s defense through the first two-plus quarters.
“In the first half, we were clicking. They had nothing other than one touchdown on a short field,” said true freshman safety Andrew Wingard, who had 10 tackles and six solo stops, both game highs.
The turning point came when junior middle linebacker Lucas Wacha left midway through the third quarter with a concussion. At that point, he had nine tackles. Wacha is the Cowboys’ most experienced linebacker, and was playing as well – or better – than Wingard to that point.
“That one hurt. Lucas is really one of our staunch guys,” Wingard said.
UW also lost two other defensive starters – senior defensive end Siaosi Hala’api’api and sophomore cornerback Robert Priester – to concussions. Bohl said Wacha’s concussion might be the most serious of the three.
“We competed hard for a good portion of the game, and then we ran out of gas and started running out of players,” Bohl said.
Even though some of UW’s shortcomings reared their ugly head in another loss, what was different about this was arguably its best player – Hill – struggled with mistakes. Those two fumbles were his first two of the season.
“It’s unacceptable. It won’t happen again,” Hill said.
UW can’t afford to have its best players making the mistakes they did in this game.