2:00 PM ET, November 12, 2011
Falcon Stadium, Usaf Academy, CO
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Brett Smith wasn't about to let a whipping wind get in the way of a much-needed win.
Wyoming's freshman quarterback ran for two touchdowns and threw for another, lifting the Cowboys to a 25-17 victory over Air Force in a howling wind that gusted to 60 mph Saturday.
"Was it 60? That's it?" Smith said. "I swear I've never played in something like that."
It didn't show. The more it gusted, the better he got.
Smith finished with 75 yards rushing and threw for another 139 as the Cowboys (6-3, 3-1 Mountain West) snapped a five-game skid against the Falcons (5-5, 1-4), who lost starting quarterback Tim Jefferson to a concussion in the first quarter.
"After what happened last week, I wanted to try to win this for the seniors," Smith said.
Smith had the Cowboys on the verge of an upset against TCU last weekend, before leaving the game early in the fourth quarter after taking a hard hit. That ate at him all week.
"I try to make it a point to never come out of a game," Smith said. "I was upset, felt like I let the team down. ... I was happy to come back."
Even if the wind did at times confound him.
"I wanted to get acclimated to it in warm-ups as best as I could, because it was crazy," Smith said. "I've never played in that."
It was so blustery at Falcon Stadium that the goal posts were teetering, tents in the parking lot were toppled and the traditional fighter jet flyover was scrubbed.
The wind also affected the kicking game, as Wyoming's Daniel Sullivan missed an early extra point when the wind took it wide right and Air Force punter David Baska had a kick travel just 12 yards.
Trailing 17-12 early in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys went on a 16-play drive that ended with Smith's 2-yard TD run. He had kept the drive going by hitting Mazi Ogbonna over the middle to convert a big fourth-and-10.
Given the wind, Wyoming decided against the extra-point attempt and went for a 2-point conversion. But Smith's pass attempt failed, making it 18-17.
The Falcons drove deep into Wyoming territory, but Mike DeWitt's fumble was recovered by Mike Purcell with 1:47 remaining. Air Force got the ball back by spending all of its timeouts and forcing Wyoming to punt. The Falcons moved the ball to the Wyoming 34 in the closing minute only to be pushed back by an intentional grounding penalty.
On fourth down, Brandon Hirneise caught a pass and tried to lateral it to a teammate. The ball bounced around the turf before defensive back Marqueston Huff scooped it up raced 48 yards for a score.
Huff also had an interception on Air Force's final offensive play, a last-ditch attempt down the sideline.
Although the Cowboys won their sixth game, they aren't bowl eligible yet because two of their wins are against Football Championship Subdivision teams. Wyoming will host New Mexico next weekend.
"Was it big? Yeah, (the win) was huge," Wyoming coach Dave Christensen said. "We turned the ball over a couple times and gave away some opportunities to score some points, but in the end, our kids won the turnover battle and found a way to win the football game."
Backup Connor Dietz did an effective job of leading Air Force in place of Jefferson. Dietz topped the Falcons in rushing with 85 yards, but only attempted five passes -- completing two for minus-1 yard -- in the gusting wind.
Asher Clark ran for 84 yards, while DeWitt scored twice.
"It's very disappointing, and I take full blame in the loss," said Dietz, whose team had four turnovers in the second half. "We've just got to be better with the ball."
The Falcons have been to four straight bowls under coach Troy Calhoun, a streak that's now in jeopardy. The Falcons have two wins over FCS teams, so they need to beat UNLV next weekend and Colorado State on the road to extend their bowl run.
"I hope we step up," linebacker Alex Means said. "This is must-win, and if we lose, we go home. If we want a bowl game, it's go time. There's no more fooling around. This is a serious time."
Neither team mustered much offense in the first half, with the Falcons only passing once in the opening 30 minutes.
The Cowboys were more willing to put it in the air, with Smith completing 12 of 20 passes for 90 yards. He found receiver Chris McNeill for a 6-yard score with 26 seconds left before halftime to put the Cowboys up, 12-7.
McNeill would later leave the game with a season-ending left arm injury.
Wyoming took the opening drive and methodically marched down the field and scored on Smith's 1-yard plunge. Sullivan's point-after attempt into the teeth of the wind was pushed wide right.
Air Force answered with an impressive drive of its own, moving the ball to the Wyoming 1 before Jefferson was stuffed on fourth down. He was hurt on the play and spent the rest of the game on the sideline.
Dietz entered on the next possession and took the Falcons down the field in a drive that culminated in Dewitt's 9-yard TD run. Parker Herrington made the extra point through the wobbly goal posts to give the Falcons a 7-6 lead.
Former Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry was honored in a halftime ceremony commemorating his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame next month.
He coached the Falcons from 1984 to 2006, winning a school-best 169 games.
Lately, DeBerry's former team has been in the news as a possible fit for the Big East Conference.
"The only constant thing in football right now is change," DeBerry said. "It seems that the almighty dollar dictates a lot of what is being done and the considerations that are being made."
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||7-14||6-16|
|4th Down Conversions||1-1||1-3|
|TD||08:32||Brett Smith 1 Yd Run (Pat Failed)||6||0|
|TD||01:13||Mike DeWitt 9 Yd Run (Parker Herrington Kick)||6||7|
|TD||00:26||Chris McNeill 6 Yd Pass From Brett Smith (Two-Point Conversion Failed)||12||7|
|FG||09:55||Parker Herrington 35 Yd||12||10|
|TD||03:35||Mike DeWitt 1 Yd Run (Parker Herrington Kick)||12||17|
|TD||07:40||Brett Smith 2 Yd Run (Two-Point Conversion Failed)||18||17|
|TD||00:25||Marqueston Huff 48 Yd Fumble Return (Daniel Sullivan Kick)||25||17|