LAS VEGAS, Nev., -- He remembers Paul Roach, Mitch Donahue and Scott Runyan, among others.

Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun also recalls that fall day inside Falcon Stadium when the Cowboys erased a 21-points deficit and capped one of the biggest comebacks in program history when a 27-yard field goal off the right leg of Sean Fleming to give the visitors a 48-45 win.

 

"Yeah, I was there that day," said Calhoun, who was a senior quarterback for the Falcons in 1988. "I believe they ran the table in the WAC in those years? They were legit."

Yes, Wyoming did roll through its conference schedule in 1987 and '88, winning 16 straight and clinching a Holiday Bowl berth in both seasons. Randy Welniak was the guy under center in that memorable comeback, Donahue was in on the Dee Dowis fumble that brought Fleming on to the field for the game winner.

That's not the only memorable contest between these two Front Range foes, either.

In 1996, Wyoming outlasted the Falcons 22-19 in front of a sellout crowd inside War Memorial Stadium. The Cowboys went on to win the division and play in the inaugural WAC Championship game.

 

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Two years later, it was Air Force who pulled off the upset victory in the Pokes' home finale with a division title on the line. Fisher DeBerry and Co. held Dana Dimel's triple-shoot offensive attack to just a field goal in a 10-3 win in Laramie.

There was also the "Tyler Vander Waal game" in 2018.

Wyoming's back-up signal caller entered the game early for a an injured Sean Chambers and watched the Falcons build a 27-14 with 8:44 left in the fourth quarter. With the wind chill hovering around minus-4 degrees, Vander Waal threaded a go-ahead touchdown pass on a 22-yard strike to Austin Conway with 1:09 left in the game. Xazavian Valladay sealed the deal with a 27-yard jaunt to the end zone.

Wyoming 35
Air Force 27

The series record between these two squads sits at 29-26-3 with the Falcons holding the slight advantage. Their longest winning streak is five games. Wyoming has won three in a row three different times. COVID-19 forced this game to take a break in 2020. That snapped a run of 39 straight seasons.

So, the big question is -- does Calhoun consider Wyoming a real rival?

"We have a great deal of respect for them," he said. "I know it stirs up, I don't want to say animosity, but it stirs up interest and you never ever want somebody to be able to live by subjective emotionalism. We want to play well in that game. We want to be competitive in that game."

Speaking of emotionalism, there was that contest in 2012 when then-Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen had a heated exchange with Calhoun after a last-second 28-27 loss in Laramie. Christensen accused Calhoun of faking an injury to preserve a late time out. The incident was caught on video and the Cowboys' head man was eventually fined $50,000 and suspended for one game.

Sounds like a rivalry, huh?

Still, Calhoun isn't ready to put the Pokes in the same conversation with fellow military institutions Army or Navy. Air Force also has an I-25 rivalry with in-state foe Colorado State.

"I think when you do play, there are a handful of schools you play every single year -- or seven schools you play every year -- and I think you naturally develop some ebb and flow and a pretty good mutual respect over time," he said. "That's the way we feel about (Wyoming). I mean just the respect we have for them, for all the schools in this league."

Calhoun said Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson and the other league coached met Wednesday morning in Las Vegas to discuss the possibility of disbanding the divisions within the conference. He didn't share his personal feelings, but he did say he wants the real rivalries to be preserved -- UNLV against Nevada and the Border War between Wyoming and Colorado State.

Whether you want to call the annual clash between the Cowboys and Falcons a real rivalry or not, the standings -- and the games themselves -- speak volumes.

"If you're looking for bitterness, no," Calhoun said. "Sometimes that makes for a better story if you can capture bitterness. We don't feel that way."

So, no traveling trophy?

Calhoun smiled.

Wyoming Cowboys football players in the NFL: Then and now