Wyoming Falls Late at Air Force, 34-27
* University of Wyoming press release
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., -- In another game that would go down to the wire, it looked like the Wyoming Cowboys would once again find a way to win in their magical 2023 season.
But in the end, the Air Force Falcons prevailed in a 34-27 home win over the Cowboys.
It was Wyoming’s first Mountain West loss of the season and only their second loss overall to fall to 5-2 and 2-1 in the Mountain West Conference. Air Force improved to 6-0 overall and 4-0 in conference play. Both teams entered Saturday’s game receiving votes in both the Associated Press media poll and AFCA Coaches poll.
Midway through the fourth quarter with the Wyoming Cowboys trailing 21-27, the Cowboy defense came up with a big play that was reminiscent of late-game heroics in earlier games this season.
Defensive end DeVonne Harris recovered an Air Force fumble at the Air Force 25-yard line, with 7:59 remaining in the game. Cowboy quarterback Andrew Peasley would complete a 12-yard pass to wide receiver Will Pelissier on first down.
Following carries of eight and two yards by running back Sam Scott, Peasley would then find tight end Treyton Welch alone in the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown on fourth down to tie the game at 27-27. The Cowboys had an opportunity to take the lead with a successful extra point. But the Falcons broke through the line on the extra-point attempt and blocked the kick of place-kicker John Hoyland to maintain the tie.
On its next play from scrimmage, Falcon back-up quarterback Jensen Jones, who was inserted for injured starter Zac Larrier, was hit by Cowboy linebacker Easton Gibbs, who forced a fumble and recovered the fumble for the Cowboys at the Air Force 29-yard line with 5:45 to go in the game. The Pokes attempted two consecutive rushing plays by running back Scott that resulted in a gain of one yard on first down and a loss of one on second down.
On third down, Air Force brought pressure on Peasley and sacked the Cowboy QB for a loss of six yards back to the Air Force 35-yard line. That created a situation where Hoyland would be asked to attempt a 52-yard field goal. The field goal had the distance but was wide right, and Air Force took over at its own 35-yard line.
After runs of five yards and two yards by Falcon fullback Emmanuel Michel, Air Force was facing a third and three at its own 42-yard line. It was then that Falcon running back John Lee Eldridge III broke off a 58-yard touchdown run to give the Falcons a 34-27 lead with 2:17 remaining in the game.
The Cowboys began their final drive at their own 25-yard line. UW gained nine yards on a pass from Peasley to tight end Welch, but were unable to pick up a first down on third and one and fourth and one and the ball went back to Air Force on downs. The Falcons picked up one first down to end the game.
“We got off to a good start in the first half, but Air Force came back and made more plays than we did in the second half,” said Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl. “We got beat by a good football team tonight.
“It was a classic game. There certainly were some ebbs and flows and things we can do better, but I don’t want to take anything away from Air Force. They played physical, our guys battled in there and hung in there, and we had an opportunity to win and didn’t get it done.
“There are a lot of things that are disappointing. I’m going to encourage (Hoyland). I knew coming in, we had two classic teams vying for it. What we have to do is make some corrections and take advantage of this bye week. We are a beat-up football team. Coming into this game I was scared to death that we are going to have to play a physical game, and we certainly did. But we’ll lick our wounds and bounce back.”
For the second straight week, Wyoming jumped out to an early lead. The Cowboys took the opening drive of the game and drove 75 yards in 10 plays fueled by the running game. The Pokes gained 53 of their 75 yards on the ground during the drive. Running back Scott carried twice for 11 yards. Quarterback Peasley carried six times for 42 yards, including runs of seven yards, 17 and 16 yards and a one-yard touchdown run to cap off the scoring drive and give UW a 7-0 lead.
The Wyoming defense then forced Air Force into a three-and-out on the Falcons’ first possession, and gave the Cowboy offense the ball back at its own 31-yard line after the punt. The second Wyoming drive put on display the Cowboy passing attack. Peasley completed 3 of 4 passes for 56 yards on the drive, including passes of 23 yards to tight end John Michael Gyllenborg, 27 yards to wide receiver Ryan Marquez and six yards for a TD to wide receiver Wyatt Wieland. The passing yards accounted for 56 of UW’s 69 yards on the drive and the Pokes held a 14-0 lead with 3:59 remaining in the first quarter.
On Air Force’s second possession, the Falcon rushing attack generated all 75 yards on its first scoring drive of the game. Big plays on the drive, included runs of 15, 26 and six yards by quarterback Zac Larrier, and runs of six and 15 yards by fullback Owen Burk, with the 15-yarder resulting in Air Force’s first touchdown to cut the Wyoming lead to 14-7 with 26 seconds left in the opening period.
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One of the big plays that Air Force made in the second quarter was a successful fake punt. With the Cowboys holding that 14-7 lead, Wyoming’s defense stopped the Falcons on their first possession of the second quarter and forced them into a punt at the Air Force 44-yard line. But Falcon fullback Burk took the snap instead of the punter and ran for 39 yards down to the Wyoming 17-yard line. One play later, Air Force QB Larrier connected with running back Eldridge on a 17-yard TD pass to tie the game at 14-14.
Wyoming’s offense immediately responded, by driving 75 yards in 12 plays with Peasley finding wide receiver Ayir Asante for a 14-yard TD pass to put the Pokes back in the lead at 21-14, with only 1:43 remaining in the first half.
“I think any time a fake punt occurs those are going to have a huge impact on the game, but there’s other things,” said Bohl. “We get an extra point blocked, there are a lot of things that went into this game that we need to correct. Our guys gave a great effort. We certainly can coach better. We can play better, but I want to make this clear, that’s a good football team and we played them tough at their home.”
Air Force closed out the first-half scoring with a six-play, 68-yard drive that ended with a 24-yard field goal by place-kicker Matthew Dapore with no time remaining to make the halftime score 21-17 in favor of Wyoming.
The third quarter began with Air Force taking the opening possession of the second half 75 yards in 17 plays in a drive that would consume 10:13 on the clock. The Falcons scored a touchdown to take its first lead of the game at 24-21.
Wyoming would gain one first down on its only possession of the third quarter before punting the ball back to Air Force with 1:33 to go in the third.
Air Force’s second possession of the third quarter would carry into the fourth and would end with a 24-yard field goal by Dapore to extend the Falcon’s led to 27-21.
After a Wyoming punt, it was on Air Force’s next possession that the Pokes would capitalize on the recovered fumble by Cowboy defensive end Harris and tie the game at 27-27 on Peasley’s fourth-down TD pass to Welch. But that was as close as the Cowboys would come to securing another close victory.
“I thought (Peasley) played really well,” said Bohl. “He made some great plays -- obviously the fourth-down touchdown. He was gutting things out. I was encouraged by Andrew.
“We have to get refreshed. We’ve gone through a gauntlet. We have to bounce back. Those guys are hurting in the locker room, and I’m hurting, too.
“One of our goals is to win the conference championship. The winner of this game would put themselves in the catbird seat, so now you have to count on someone else. But what we’ve got to do is we’ve got to correct things. The effort was there, but the execution wasn’t.”
Wyoming has its one bye week of the season this coming week. The Cowboys’ next game will be on Saturday, Oct. 28 at Boise State. The game time for that game will be announced by the Mountain West Conference and FOX Networks in the coming days.
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