‘Self-inflicted wounds,’ Air Force ground game leave Boise State in home losing skid

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The Boise State football team couldn’t get out of its own way on Saturday.

The Broncos committed eight penalties for 75 yards, blew three opportunities to tie the game in the second half and managed just three points after halftime in a 24-17 home loss to Air Force.

It was Boise State’s first loss to Air Force since 2016 and the first time the Broncos lost to the Falcons at Albertsons Stadium since 2015.

It’s also part of a rare home losing streak for the Broncos (3-4, 1-2 Mountain West), who have now lost three consecutive games on The Blue for the first time since 1996. For a program and fan base that take pride in making visiting teams miserable, that’s simply unacceptable, Boise State football coach Andy Avalos said.

“Everyone knows what the standard is here, whether it’s at home or on the road,” Avalos said after the game.

Boise State trailed 21-14 late in the third quarter when the Broncos drove to Air Force’s 2-yard line to set up their first chance to tie the score in the second half. The drive stalled there, and the coaches opted to go for it on fourth down.

After a timeout, quarterback Hank Bachmeier looked as if he called an audible and moved from a shotgun set to under center. After the snap, he rolled right, looking for an open receiver in the end zone, but he found no options. Scrambling toward the goal line, he took a big hit a couple of yards short, and Boise State turned the ball over to the Falcons on downs.

The worst thing about the Broncos’ failure to capitalize in that situation was that they had only 10 players on the field for the play, limiting Bachmeier’s options because they were a man down.

“That’s a critical error in that situation,” Avalos said. “That’s my fault. I’ve got to make sure there are 11 guys that run on the field.”

Boise State had another opportunity to forge a 21-21 tie after Air Force (6-1, 3-1 MW) missed a 30-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. Taking over at their own 20, the Broncos moved the ball to midfield after a long completion from Bachmeier to wide receiver Stefan Cobbs. Then things fell apart.

On second down from the Falcons’ 49-yard line, Bachmeier got hit as he attempted a pass and the ball went backward, meaning it was a live fumble, and it tumbled out of bounds for what turned out to be an 18-yard loss. That left the Broncos in a deep hole on third down and they were forced to punt after a short completion.

Boise State’s defense forced another Air Force punt, but the Broncos’ offense didn’t get a chance this time. The punt ricocheted off fifth-year senior Kekaula Kaniho while he was blocking, making it a live ball, and the Falcons recovered on the Broncos’ 15-yard line. Air Force capitalized when Matthew Dapore kicked a 28-yard field goal for a 24-14 lead with 2:49 to play.

The Broncos followed with an 11-play scoring drive and made it a one-possession game again on a 37-yard field goal from Jonah Dalmas with 47 seconds left. That meant Boise State’s last chance at a remarkable comeback to force overtime hinged on recovering an onside kick — and tight end Riley Smith did exactly that after the ball ricocheted off an Air Force player.

The elation on Boise State’s sideline didn’t last long, though. Bachmeier’s first pass on the ensuing series was intercepted by Milton “Tre” Bugg III, allowing the Falcons to kneel and run out the clock.

“We were able to keep them out of the end zone, to be real,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said after the game. “We came up with some key stops, even at the end of the game to hold them to a field goal.”

Air Force fullback Brad Roberts scores a touchdown against the Bronco defense in the first half Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021 at Albertsons Stadium.
Air Force fullback Brad Roberts scores a touchdown against the Bronco defense in the first half Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021 at Albertsons Stadium.



With his younger brothers, Tiger and Bear, in the stands, Bachmeier finished the game 23-of-36 for 259 yards, and his only passing touchdown was an 8-yard strike to Cobbs for a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.

“It is important to make the most of those opportunities, especially with a team like that, that holds the ball and runs the time out,” said Cobbs, who led the Broncos’ receivers with six catches for 83 yards. “We had some self-inflicted wounds.”

Boise State didn’t help itself Saturday with so many penalties, mistakes and missed opportunities, but as Cobbs alluded, Air Force’s vaunted rushing attack played a big role in the Broncos’ third home loss this season.

Air Force went into the game ranked No. 1 in the nation with 341.3 rushing yards per contest, and the Falcons racked up 307 yards against the Broncos.

“They run the ball all the time, and they’re very calculated at what they do,” said Boise State defensive tackle Scott Matlock, who had a pair of sacks in the game. “They’re very good at attacking certain defensive calls and formations.”

Air Force went into halftime with a 21-14 lead thanks to two rushing touchdowns from fullback Brad Roberts, who led the team with 138 yards on the ground. The Falcons also got a 25-yard rushing touchdown from quarterback Haaziq Daniels, who finished with 83 yards.

Boise State now has a bye week before hitting the road to face Mountain West foe Colorado State on Oct. 30, and that time off might be a good thing for a team that was without seven players on Saturday, including top running backs George Holani and Cyrus Habibi-Likio.

“There are a lot of things we have to improve on and a lot of guys we have to get healthy,” Avalos said.

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