I’m not even sure where to start in this discussion of one of the greatest shows on turf (or surf? As in Hawaii, get it?) I’ve ever seen from the Air Force Falcons.
Play of the Year
I guess the best place to start would be at the end. To put an exclamation point on the win with 4:01 left in the game, Tre Bugg made his return after missing last week abundantly clear with a 92 yard pick six that you have to see to believe, bringing the score to 56-26 Air Force.
I don’t know what kind of tip drills Coach Chip Vaughn has his DBs doing, but Grant Thiel hit the ball up five times before Tre Bugg snagged it for the return. The play made Sportcenter’s Top 10 plays, of course at the number one spot.
No QB1, No Problem
A very scary moment occurred when starting quarterback DJ Hammond fell hard on his throwing shoulder on the first offensive drive. He went into the locker room for further medical review, and while he returned to the sidelines, he did not return to the game. Normally, this wouldn’t be cause for too much concern because Isaiah Sanders is a capable backup, who could easily hold down a role as the starter. The only problem was that injury barred Sanders from making the trip to Hawaii.
Enter Mike Schmidt. The untested third string senior quarterback with a positive outlook and a promise that he will answer the call to play if needed. This article is a must-read to see what I’m talking about. Normally, I would brush this kind of talk off as lip service for anyone else, but the way he stepped up and delivered on his promises last night shows how genuine he really is.
Mike Schmidt completed five of his six passes for 147 yards and a touchdown. He also ran in three touchdowns and carried the ball 14 times for 120 yards. Honestly, if it weren’t for the insane depth Air Force has at running back, I would say that he could make a great case for himself being part of the rotation in addition to his QB3 duties. His style is remarkably different than both DJ Hammond and Isaiah Sanders in the option. His tempo is impeccable and his timing keeps you on the edge of your seat, making the decision to pitch or keep in tiny windows of perfection. With no film on him, there was no way Hawaii would have been able to stop his offensive attack.
Business As Usual
As for the rest of the Falcon team, we saw the incredible performance we’ve gotten used to this season. Duvall Jackson carried the ball 13 times for 113 yards and a touchdown. Kade Remsberg saw the end zone twice in his 11 carries for 91 yards. Geraud Sanders had another 100+ yard receiving game with 3 receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown. Demonte Meeks sacked Cole McDonald twice and tallied four tackles for a loss. Jordan Jackson was an intimidating force, and while he only recorded 1 tackle, he kept Cole McDonald scrambling and got his hand up to block a bullet of a pass. Mo Fifita recovered a fumble, and it was really just a display of every man doing their job in this team win.
From a coaching perspective, Air Force knew Cole McDonald and his receivers would bring a dangerous offense. It would be a sheer numbers game and the Falcons could not get down on themselves early. Outpacing the Warriors was key and the Falcons rose to the occasion. Cole McDonald threw the ball an astounding 52 times and completed 34 of those passes for 404 yards and three touchdowns. His lone interception resulted in the highlight pick six, but that was more of a testament to the defense than an error of his own.
An interesting note is that Air Force did not win the game on the key service academy football stats that I love to talk about. Third down efficiency was just okay at 6 of 10, but they are 1 for 1 on fourth downs, and the 22 first downs total is an indicator of how well Mike Schmidt was moving the offense on first and second down. Air Force also racked up 6 penalties for 55 yards, one more penalty and five more yards than Hawaii. Finally, Hawaii edged out the Falcons in the possession battle, 30:08 to Air Force’s 29:52. Air Force did, however, win the turnover stat, forcing two, while Air Force’s record was clean. The Falcons have proven that you don’t need to control these statistics to win a game, but moving forward, they’re still important to fall back on.
The Road Ahead
Two weeks ago to the day, I had a football hangover. The Falcons had so much promise, but the season had seemingly slipped away over the course of two games against Boise State and Navy. Now, in the grand scheme of things, the situation isn’t really cured. There’s still no way to win the CiC, even with an underwhelming Army team coming to town in a few weeks, and Air Force still needs Boise to lose a conference game or two in order to have a real shot at the Mountain West. Seeing this Air Force team have historically entertaining wins against Colorado and now Hawaii makes the big picture situation really sting. I don’t want to dive too deep into hypotheticals or the what-ifs of scheduling, but I would like Air Force’s chances in a re-match with Boise or Navy any day.
Regardless of what the rest of the season brings, the Falcons are now 2-0 in the toughest stretch of their post-Navy season. After Utah State next week, the difficulty drops off significantly and a win against the Aggies really opens up the opportunity to finish the season 10-2. We can’t get ahead of ourselves. It’s still one game at a time and we can’t ignore the fact that last night’s win came in spite of a DJ Hammond injury. Other star players that have been on the injury list or have taken scary hits include Kade Waguespack, Garrett Kauppila, Tre Bugg, Jeremy Fejedelem, and Isaiah Sanders. The Falcons ‘next man up’ philosophy has made these missing links practically unnoticeable, but it’s still something to consider. Either way, Air Force has a lot of life and there’s still a lot more football to play.