There was plenty for Air Force to celebrate tonight.
The offense looked arguably the best it has all season, rolling up 557 yards. The Falcons were balanced (for them) with quarterback Tim Jefferson completing 8-of-13 passes for 126 yards. And the ground game was dominant, with the Falcons picking up 6.1 yards per carry.
The defense was not quite as impenetrable as it has been at times this season, but it still limited a dangerous UNLV passing attack to just 135 yards.
Kicker Erik Soderberg continued his outstanding season by nailing a 35-yarder, giving him 20 field goals this season.
And Air Force’s 15 seniors walked out of Falcon Stadium for the last time as players triumphant, with a 45-17 victory.
And yet … not to snow on the Falcons’ celebration … but that was a pretty inept UNLV squad.
I’m not saying that to diminish a standout performance but to highlight the following: Air Force has held serve against the teams it finished above last season and was picked to finish above this season. But it has yet to beat a team it wasn’t “supposed to” beat.
The Falcons have one more chance next Saturday at Provo. And they’re looking forward to it.
“Next week’s a huge game,” senior strong safety Chris Thomas said of the clash with BYU. “Been looking forward to that game all year.”
And there’s plenty at stake. With a victory, the Falcons all of a sudden would seem to have a shot at the Poinsettia Bowl and maybe even the Las Vegas Bowl (if BYU went on to beat Utah the following week and TCU ends up in the BCS).
More importantly, Air Force would finish no worse than third in the Mountain West Conference. Instead of thinking about the Falcons as “the best of the rest,” we’d have to re-define “The Big Three.”
“This next week is huge for us as a program,” Thomas said. “If we can play well and get a ‘W,’ I think it would show that this program has definitely taken some strides forward.”
Jefferson showed up at the post-game press conference wearing flip-flops.
He had socks on, but it still was surprising for a kid from Georgia.
“I’ve gotten used to Colorado,” he said.
The Falcons were at home in the cold and snow on Saturday night, much more so than UNLV. Don’t know if it was a big factor, but I think it played a part in Air Force’s dominance. Troy Calhoun loves practicing in inclement weather to get his guys ready for days like today. That definitely has helped.
-I think we safely can say Air Force has a big-time receiving threat.
Kevin Fogler made three catches for 73 yards, and – as usual – they were significant grabs. All of them gave the Falcons first downs.
-Rebels coach Mike Sanford thought it would have been “a different game,” had UNLV scored late in the first half to make it 17-10 (instead, Thomas picked off a pass in the end zone and the Falcons then drove 80 yards to go up 24-3 just before the half).
I’m not going to say that’s delusional, but come on, Mike. It was a momentum-changer, sure. But there was no way Air Force was going to win that game by less than 10 points, let alone lose it.
-Last thing: Troy Calhoun is the first Air Force coach in program history to lead his first three teams to seven or more victories. Pretty good accomplishment.