USAFA — On a cold, blustery day when defense figured prominently for both Wyoming and Air Force, free safety Jeremy Fejedelem helped swing the game in favor of the Falcons.
Fejedelem led a strong defensive effort with his first two interceptions of the season, Donald Hammond III ran for one touchdown and threw for another, and Air Force rolled to its seventh straight win by beating Wyoming 20-6 on Saturday amid gusting winds and near freezing temperatures.
“It’s always good when you can make a big play like that for the team,” said Fejedelem, who made both interceptions after the ball was deflected. “But I really didn’t have to do much. My teammates tipped them up for me.”
The turnovers thwarted Wyoming drives and produced time-consuming drives ending in two field goals by Jake Koehnke.
“When we get 3-and-outs, that doesn’t help our defense, and our defense was spectacular today,” said Hammond, who was 5 of 6 for 121 yards passing, including a 75-yard touchdown pass to Ben Waters in the closing minutes. “Granted we didn’t do what we needed to do on every possession but the long drives helped us out at the end of the day.”
Hammond also ran 15 times for 35 yards, including a short touchdown run for Air Force (10-2, 7-1 Mountain West). The Falcons’ win streak is their longest in a single season since Air Force won eight in a row in 1998, which is also the last time the Falcons finished with 10 or more wins in the regular season.
Levi Williams and Tyler Vander Waal split time at quarterback for Wyoming (7-4, 4-4) with Williams finishing 6 of 11 for 84 yards and Vander Waal going 4 of 7 for 27 yards. Each had an interception in Wyoming’s first loss to Air Force in the last four meetings between the teams.
“I thought their defensive front did a great job of being disruptive,” Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said. “We popped a couple of plays into the red zone. We just couldn’t come up with enough movement to stick a couple plays in the end zone.”
Ahead by a touchdown at halftime, the Falcons moved in front 10-0 on a 31-yard field goal by Koehnke with 5:50 left in the third quarter. The Falcons began the drive near midfield after Fejedelem intercepted a pass by Vander Waal that was tipped by linebacker Grant Theil. Air Force got to the Wyoming 13-yard line before Hammond was stopped short of the first down on a third-down run.
Wyoming got on the scoreboard with a 26-yard field goal by Cooper Rothe with 13:08 left to play and minutes later, Wyoming was poised for another scoring chance when they started a drive at the Air Force 47 following a shanked punt by Charlie Scott that traveled only 13 yards. But Fejedelem came up with his second interception after it was tipped by linebacker Jake Ksiazek, leading to another field goal by Koehnke, a 27-yarder with 5:31 remaining.
Wyoming answered with a drive that reached the Air Force 6, where the Falcons stopped Williams’ third-down scramble short of the first down, forcing the Cowboys to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Rothe to pull Wyoming to 13-6 with 2:23 left.
That was as close as the Cowboys would get as the Falcons pulled off the most explosive offensive play in a game dominated on both sides by defense.
With Wyoming defenders bunched up near the line of scrimmage, gearing up to stop a run in hopes of getting the ball back with time dwindling, Hammond hit a wide-open Waters over the middle and he outran the defensive pursuit to the end zone to complete the 75-yard score.
Air Force led 7-0 at halftime behind Hammond’s 1-yard dive into the end zone.
AIR FORCE MILESTONE
The win was the 400th in the history of the Air Force Academy, which is 400-329-13 in 64 seasons.
STRONG AT HOME
The Falcons finished the season 6-0 at home, the sixth time in the school’s history the Falcons had swept their home schedule and the fourth time in Troy Calhoun’s 13 seasons as head coach.
MAKING A POINT
Place-kicker Cooper Rothe accounted for the Cowboys’ points with a pair of field goals. The senior is Wyoming’s all-time scoring leader with 334 points.
Wyoming: The Cowboys struggled to establish a balanced offensive attack that had been their hallmark in recent games. Running back Xazavian Valladay was held to 38 yards rushing after gaining at least 100 in the previous five games. Neither quarterback was effective against the Falcons’ sustained pressure.
Air Force: The Falcons’ opportunistic defense kept the Cowboys out the end zone and forced key turnovers, leading to a pair of field goals. Their offense persevered against a determined Wyoming defense that proved vulnerable only at the end when it was focused on trying to hem in the Falcons’ running game in a bid to get the ball back for one last offensive possession.
Both Air Force and Wyoming are bowl eligible.