The Air Force Falcons played as an underdog to the Boise State Broncos tonight, both in terms of raw talent and a healthy roster. Despite laying it all out on the line, Air Force fell just short in the primetime shootout against Boise State, 38-48.
In review of the game as far as a big picture look goes, this was arguably one of the best games of the season for the Falcons. Their offense rose to the occasion and the defense performed as well as they could against the deadly accuracy of the Boise State quarterback, Brett Rypien.
Boise State struck swiftly to open the game up, with Rypien passing to John Hightower for a 44 yard touchdown. Air Force was quick to respond as Cole Fagan ran a 17 yard touchdown following a march down the field by the current quarterback, Isaiah Sanders. The entire first half was a waltz between the two teams, ending 28-28.
Although Isaiah Sanders played like a veteran starter for the Air Force offense even though he is currently playing as a second string quarterback to the injured Donald Hammond III. Hammond was named the starter before the victorious game against the Navy Midshipmen. He actually began the season as the third string quarteback after senior Aarion Worthman was benched without much explanation following an opening week beatdown of the FCS Stony Brook Seawolves. Sanders then started the second game against Florida Atlantic before being benched in favor of Hammond in the fourth game of the season. Sanders returned to the field at quarterback after Hammond went down with a minor injury against San Diego State University. Sanders had an incredible performance in the last game against UNLV, throwing for 217 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 173 yards and three touchdowns, which was the second most total yards by a quarterback in Air Force history.
To add to the personnel confusion of having three capable quarterbacks with the chosen one being injured, Air Force has three stars out with injuries, including kicker Matt Phillichi, linebacker Garrett Kauppila, and wide receiver/ return specialist Ronald Cleveland. Although these players are sorely missed, the Falcons played like a well oiled machine against the Broncos, especially on offense.
Isaiah Sanders completely bucked the trend of a unilateral, triple option attack that Air Force is known for. His passing was confident and he was able to complete ten of his fifteen passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns. Air Force coach Troy Calhoun and offensive coordinator Mike Theissen left no part of the playbook unexplored tonight, even employing a halfback pass from Joseph Saucier to Andrew Smith for a touchdown.
For every Air Force score, Boise State coach Bryan Harsin had an answer. Brett Rypien was able to thread the needle, especially in the red zone, throwing for 399 yards and five touchdowns.
The game was largely an arms race. It was clear that the Air Force coaching staff trusted their players in a way that we haven’t seen this season and the Falcons delivered. To put it simply, the Falcons were outmatched. Boise State receiver, John Hightower was able to reel in what seemed like every pass he was targeted on, receiving for 182 yards and three touchdowns. Air Force has struggled immensely with the hurry up offense packages of their opponents this season, and although Boise State was practically able to will themselves to score, Air Force was still able to slow down the Broncos on several drives.
Boise State was arguably the toughest conference opponent left on the schedule entering this week. With critical players missing, this game was a difficult test of what the Falcons could do against a high powered program. Heading into Army week, there is no reason for Air Force to hang their heads. The coaches and players left it all on the field and there’s nothing else to do but digest this loss and move on to the final test for winning back the Commander in Chief’s trophy.