Lots at Stake When Falcons Face Cougars

Jake SchallerContributor INovember 18, 2009

There was plenty for Air Force to celebrate after last Saturday's 45-17 drubbing of UNLV.

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 breakout season by nailing a 35-yarder, giving him 20 field goals this season, the second-most in a season by an academy kicker.

And Air Force’s 15 seniors walked out of Falcon Stadium for the last time as players triumphant.

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 Saturday at Provo. And they’re looking forward to it.

“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, as expected, 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.”