As it has done against foes with losing records all season long, Air Force took care of business on Friday afternoon. From the opening whistle, the Falcons were in control with the knowledge that a berth in the Mountain West title game was possible, but not guaranteed.
Although Air Force handled the Rebels of UNLV with ease, a Boise State loss at the hands of San Diego State means that the Falcons will spend Championship Saturday at home. Instead, the Utah State Aggies will square off against the Aztecs for a shot at the crown.
Air Force had no trouble finding a fast start on Friday, forcing a fumble on the opening kick to set themselves up on the UNLV 14-yard line. Three plays later, Brad Roberts punched across the line for a 1-yard score, his first of the day. The Falcons forced another fumble on the next Rebel drive, with Jordan Jackson sacking Justin Rogers and knocking the ball free. Alec Mock made the recovery.
Air Force’s offense worked its way down the field masterfully with Warren Bryan under center. Bryan was given the nod in place of Haaziq Daniels for senior day. He led the drive 46 yards before Brad Roberts scored his second rushing touchdown of the day.
The Falcons forced a turnover on downs their next drive and added a field goal to stretch the lead to 17 points. Air Force forced a pair of UNLV punts with its lone punt of the day sandwiched between the two. Following the second Rebel punt, the Falcons needed just one play — a 41-yard Brandon Lewis run — to find the end zone once more. This put the halftime margin at 24-0.
Coming back out of the locker rooms, the Air Force offense looked even sharper. Zachary Larrier and Emmanuel Michel scored on the first two drives before UNLV found a response. The Rebels finally scored with a quick, 32-second drive capped off by a Charles Williams touchdown run.
The Falcons weren’t deterred, as Bryan led the offense down the field once more before Matthew Dapore drilled a 38-yard field goal to go up 41-7. Sophomore quarterback Jensen Jones got in on the action for the next Air Force drive, punching in his first touchdown of the year to round out the scoring for the home team. Charles Williams ended the day with one final touchdown drive, but it was never enough to put the Falcons in any real danger.
No throw zone
This could apply to either squad, but there wasn’t much action through the air on Friday. Air Force didn’t attempt a single pass — though it hardly needed to. The Falcons rushed for an unbelievable 511 yards on 69 attempts, with wide receivers seeing time mainly as running backs. Air Force also kept the Rebels out of the sky, holding quarterback Justin Rogers to just 8 completions on 18 attempts for 127 yards.
Air Force honored 29 seniors on Friday, as well as 14 senior managers. The seniors saw action all over the field, most notably with quarterback Warren Bryan. He didn’t find his way onto the score sheet, but he did carry the ball five times for 18 yards and rarely put a foot wrong managing the triple-option offense.
It feels like a long time ago, but this senior class was instrumental in the 2019 Cheez-It Bowl victory over Washington State. They helped the Falcons to achieve a 28-15 record in their time at the academy, including an 11-win season in 2019. If Air Force wins its bowl game, the senior class will finish with two double-digit winning seasons.
One more try
Air Force may have taken care of business on Friday afternoon, but its championship fate always relied on other results falling into place. The Falcons needed a Boise State victory to secure their spot against San Diego State, but the Broncos were unable to overcome the Aztecs. Utah State defeated New Mexico to clinch the division based on a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Falcons.
Now, Air Force has one more chance to hoist a trophy. The Falcons will have to wait until December 5 to learn their bowling fate, but we have some projections to work with in the meantime.
Mountain West Wire has the Falcons heading to the Lockeed Martin Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, while Sports Illustrated sees the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl in Air Force’s future. 247 Sports predicts a Guaranteed Rate Bowl berth for the Falcons, and finally, CBS Sports has another vote for the Armed Forces bowl.
We’ll see who, if anyone, is correct on December 5.