Cowboys take down Air Force in MW opener

·7 min read

Sep. 17—LARAMIE — After dominating a scorching hot Air Force team through two quarters, the University of Wyoming found itself staring down a four-point deficit to its Mountain Division rival with less than 10 minutes remaining.

A Cowboys offense that had been dormant for the previous 20-plus minutes awoke at the perfect moment.

Facing a third-and-nine from the UW 26-yard line, junior quarterback Andrew Peasley found junior receiver Wyatt Wieland for a 24-yard catch-and-run to extend the drive. Four plays later, sophomore tight end Parker Christensen took a screen pass 29 yards to the Air Force 5-yard line.

Junior running back Titus Swen appeared to get stopped near the line of scrimmage on the next step. However, his legs kept driving, and the Falcons couldn't bring him down, as he carried a swarm of defenders into the end zone with 6 minutes, 6 seconds remaining for the deciding score in a 17-14 victory.

"It was great," Swen said. "There was a lot of adversity out there, but this is what we practice all week, (getting) in an uncomfortable situation for when we get out there. We always practice two-minute, we always practice grind, we always practice being down, we always practice me not even in the game.

"We practice (different) options like that, so we're always ready. We had a little mix-up, and they scored 14 points ... but we got our heads straight and did the job."

Added Wyoming coach Craig Bohl: "Our players didn't panic, and I thought (offensive coordinator) Tim Polasek dialed up some unbelievable plays. We did a couple plays there that we hadn't shown, we mixed and matched, and it was at the right time."

The Falcons (2-1) opened their next possession with a 19-yard run up the right sideline, setting up a first-and-10 at their 44-yard line, only needing a field goal to send the game to overtime. They wouldn't move the chains again, though, as a defense that had held them in check most of the night rose to the occasion again.

Following a short gain on the next play, Air Force quarterback Haaziq Daniels threw back-to-back incompletions while under pressure from defensive linemen Cole Godbout and Oluwaseyi Omotosho. The Falcons punted the ball away from near midfield with roughly five minutes remaining, and wouldn't get it back again.

UW (3-1) took the final 4:47 off the clock with an 11-play drive, with a trio of third-down conversions sealing a win to open Mountain West play.

Peasley connected with sophomore receiver Will Pelissier to extend the drive on third-and-six deep in Cowboys territory, and Swen delivered a 17-yard run on third-and-13 moments later. The Falcons would have had an opportunity to get the ball back with a few seconds remaining with a stop, but sophomore running back Dawaiian McNeely got just enough yards on third-and-two to eliminate Air Force's hopes of a miracle comeback.

"I didn't even know we were going to call a run play on third-and-13," Swen said. "I thought we were going to pass the ball, get the first down and keep rolling. Boom, they called a run play, and I was like, 'Oh yeah, it's over with now.'

"I saw a lot of people on one side, so I went to the backside and took it back to my high school days. I used to cut everything backside in high school, but it was pretty fun. It was a great team win. My boys did what they needed to do, and we did the job."

UW's offense set the tone on the opening drive of the game, using a balanced attack amid a 15-play, 73-yard drive that ate up more than 7 1/2 minutes off the clock.

Peasley — who was 10 of 13 for 72 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the first half — converted on a pair of third-down conversions to Swen and sophomore receiver Alex Brown. He nearly came up with another on a nine-yard completion in the red zone, but sophomore receiver Wyatt Wieland was brought down two yards shy of the goal line, and sophomore kicker John Hoyland connected on a 20-yard field goal to put the Pokes up 3-0.

UW's other first-half score came following a three-and-out by the defense that forced Air Force to punt from inside its 10-yard line. Carson Bay shanked the kick for just 36 yards, and the Cowboys took over at their opponent's 42-yard line.

Swen broke a 23-yard run up the middle on the second play of the drive, setting up a score on the next snap. Peasley faked a handoff to Swen before hitting junior tight end Treyton Welch on a wheel route for a 14-yard touchdown that put UW up 10-0 with 7:21 left in the first half.

The Cowboys held onto this 10-point lead heading into the break, in large part due to their ability to slow down Air Force's triple-option attack. The Falcons — who entered the game ranked first and second in the nation, respectively, with 508.5 rushing yards per game and 7.7 yards per carry — were held to just 47 yards on 19 carries in the first half.

Air Force punted three times in the first two quarters, which was one more than it did in the first two weeks combined. The Falcons' other first-half drive resulted in a missed field goal attempt from 54 yards on their first possession of the game.

"I think Wyoming has historically done a good job at playing the run, so we knew what we could do," Godbout said. "Last year, we held them ... so we knew what we could do, and we knew what we had to do to get this W. That was just what had to happen."

Despite a strong start, the Pokes allowed Air Force to seize momentum as the third quarter got underway.

The Falcons opened the second half with a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, capped by a nine-yard toss from Daniels to David Cormier on third-and-goal. Wyoming had an opportunity to make a stop earlier in the drive, with Air Force facing a fourth-and-one from the UW 41-yard line. However, John Lee Eldridge took a pitch 35 yards to set up a first-and-goal that led to the score.

UW surrendered its lead for the first time early in the fourth quarter, as the Falcons strung together an eight-play, 80-yard touchdown drive following a third consecutive Cowboys possession resulting in a punt. Cade Harris beat a defender on a post route, and Daniels hit him in stride for a 41-yard score, putting Air Force up 14-10 with 9:58 left.

The Falcons weren't able to make anything of their next possession after UW's go-ahead drive, however, and the Pokes' offense ensured they wouldn't get another chance.

Wyoming out-gained its opponent 342-272, while holding Air Force to a season-low 4.3 yards per carry. Eight different players recorded receptions for the Cowboys, as Peasley finished with 162 yards on 78% passing, while also picking up 36 yards on the ground. Swen had a season-high 102 yards on 19 carries, with McNeely adding 42 yards on seven attempts.

Godbout led the defense with nine tackles and two pass breakups, while linebacker Easton Gibbs, defensive end Braden Siders and defensive tackle Jordan Bertagnole each recorded six tackles. The Pokes finished with one sack, four quarterback hurries and five tackles for loss.

Gibbs, who initially wasn't expected to play after battling illness throughout the previous 24 hours, said the win is a pivotal moment for a young UW team.

"It means everything," he said. "We keep focusing on complete games, and we can't get down. I think from the beginning, we knew it was going to be a physical game. It's Air Force. To come out and make a statement win like this at home, it means everything. The morale in there, you can still probably hear the guys yelling. It's a great feeling."

UW will go for its fourth consecutive win next Saturday at BYU.

Josh Criswell covers the University of Wyoming for WyoSports. He can be reached at jcriswell@wyosports.net or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @criswell_sports.

Josh Criswell covers the University of Wyoming for WyoSports. He can be reached at jcriswell@wyosports.net or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @criswell_sports.