COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – All week, University of Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl praised the 2019 edition of Air Force as being the best he had seen in his six years as the Cowboys’ head coach. The Falcons’ triple-option offense was electric, and their defense was as stingy as Bohl’s recent memory served.
On a windy Saturday afternoon in Colorado Springs, the Falcons proved Bohl correct.
UW gained just 225 total yards of offense against Air Force and was only able to push a pair of field goals across the board, despite two trips to the red zone. With a chance to get the ball back late in the fourth quarter and potentially tie the game, the Cowboys’ defense was unable to make a crucial defensive stop, and UW fell to Air Force, 20-6.
UW (7-5 overall, 4-4 Mountain West) now awaits its bowl fate.
UW held Air Force’s prolific offense to just 305 total yards, its lowest output of the season. Unfortunately, the Cowboys’ yardage total was its lowest of the season, too.
“Their defensive front did a great job being disruptive. We had a hard time staying man on man,” Bohl said. “We popped a couple of plays down the field. We couldn’t just come up with enough movement to stick a couple of plays in the end zone.”
It was tough sledding for UW’s offense the majority of the afternoon. Following a similar script to last Friday’s Border War victory over Colorado State, true freshman quarterback Levi Williams and redshirt sophomore Tyler Vander Waal rotated under center most of the game. After throwing two passes in his season debut against the Rams, Williams went 6 of 11 for 84 yards and an interception and added an additional 79 yards rushing. Vander Waal left the game in the second quarter with an injury but returned later and finished 4 of 7 for 27 yards and an interception.
Trailing 13-6 with just over 2 minutes left to play, UW attempted to use its timeouts in hopes of getting another possession to tie the game. Air Force (10-2, 7-1) caught the Cowboys off guard, though, as instead of running the ball to waste clock, quarterback Donald Hammond III threw a 75-yard backbreaking strike to Ben Waters that effectively put the game out of reach.
Hammond was 5 of 6 passing for 121 yards and a touchdown and added 35 yards rushing and a touchdown on the ground.
“At the end of the game, that pass, yeah, people might blame the game on that. (But) it was one play. There was an entire game we could have made more turnovers,” redshirt junior defensive end Garrett Crall said. “At that point, we had to stop them … they had a good call and they scored.”
It appeared UW had found its offensive spark early in the third quarter when Williams started the half under center. The Texas native calmly led the Pokes down to the Falcons’ 40-yard line with his legs, highlighted by a 38-yard dash down the sideline that looked like a potential momentum swing. Two plays later, however, Vander Waal threw a pass that was deflected and then intercepted by safety Jeremy Fejedelem.
Six UW drives ended in Air Force territory Saturday.
“Sure. It’s hard sometimes (rotating in and out). But you just have to keep studying the entire game. Everybody’s looking at you. You are the guy, no matter what,” Williams said. “You just have to keep them up the entire game.”
UW’s lone points came in the fourth quarter on 26- and 23-yard field goals from senior Cooper Rothe on drives that stalled inside the Air Force 10-yard line. Redshirt sophomore running back Xazavian Valladay, who reached the 1,000-yard mark for the season last week, was held to just 39 yards on 14 carries, his lowest output since gaining 18 yards at Tulsa on Sept. 21. Valladay had rushed for at least 100 yards in each of UW’s previous five games. Williams finished as the Cowboys’ leading rusher and was the only runner to gain 10 or more yards on a play.
“We were going to have a hard time moving the football, and we certainly did,” Bohl said.
The Falcons ran for 162 yards in the game, well below their season average of nearly 305 yards. It was the Falcons’ second-lowest rushing total of the season behind their 111 yards gained at Navy. Senior safety Alijah Halliburton led Wyoming with 13 total tackles while redshirt senior linebacker Logan Wilson and Crall each finished with 10. Air Force averaged less than 3 yards per carry in the game.
“We played pretty well all game,” Crall said. “There was nothing that we weren’t prepared for.”
With its regular season slate of games finished, UW has a week off from game action before learning its expected bowl date. The Cowboys are bowl eligible for the fourth straight season, though they were not invited last year despite a 6-6 record.
“We’re not happy with where we are. We’re 7-5, we’re going to a bowl game. That’s, I guess, an improvement from last year. But it’s not necessarily what we set out to do,” Crall said. “We’re going to attack when bowl prep starts and try to win that bowl game.”