No points. No problem.
Overshadowed by the offense's season-long success, Air Force's gambling defense took things into its own hands Saturday, leading the No. 23 Falcons to a 10-3 win over 25th-ranked Wyoming.
"We told them at halftime, 'If you guys score one touchdown or a field goal, we'll win the game,"' Air Force cornerback Tim Curry said. "All we needed was some points."
The Falcons (9-1, 6-1 WAC), averaging 41 points per game, were held scoreless in the first half but took the opening drive of the second half 64 yards as Blane Morgan found Qualario Brown for an 18-yard touchdown pass.
As promised, the defense stifled Wyoming (8-2, 6-1), surrendering only a third-quarter field goal, and Air Force held on in the first game featuring two ranked teams in the 48-year history of War Memorial Stadium.
"This was the funnest game," said defensive tackle Bryce Fisher, who had two of Air Force's five sacks. "We kept coming back to the sidelines, and it was close, but we kept saying how fun this is. This is the most fun I've had playing football in so long."
For Wyoming, the result could not have been more disappointing. The Cowboys were the first to hold Air Force under 30 points this season, yet still need a win next week at Tulsa and an Air Force loss at home against Rice to advance to the Dec. 5 WAC championship game.
"There's still hope, but it broke our hearts," safety Al Rich said. "We reallwanted to get there."
Morgan finished with 96 yards passing and 52 yards rushing and Jemal Singleton ran for 64 yards to help Air Force to its sixth consecutive victory since a 35-34 loss to Texas Christian.
"I thought our players were not going to be denied," Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry said. "When it came down to getting the tough yardage and having to control the clock, they did a fine job."
Air Force, the nation's second-best running team at 293 yards per game, had 93 yards rushing in the first half and finished with 228, while Wyoming had 28 net yards rushing and 199 total yards for the game.
Other than Jay Stoner's 53-yard pass to Wendell Montgomery that set up a 28-yard field goal by Aaron Elling, Wyoming's offense never got on track. The field goal marked Wyoming's only drive inside the Air Force 40.
"I think we were a little bit tight," Stoner said. "We came out and we were not as loose as we usually are, and we were not having as much fun as we usually do."
"You could just feel it on the sidelines. If somebody made a bad play, everybody was just yelling around at everybody. It shouldn't be like that. You've got to get on with it and move on."
Despite Wyoming's problems, the game remained in doubt until Air Force was able to run out the clock after taking over at its 10 with 3:05 remaining.
"We all had confidence in the defense," Air Force receiver Dylan Newman said. "We were upset as an offense that we weren't doing anything. We just felt kind of useless."
After Elling's field goal cut the lead to 7-3 late in the third quarter, Wyoming forced the Falcons to punt but then turned the ball over on downs. Air Force capitalized with a 21-yard field goal by Jackson Whiting with 5:58 remaining.
After being held scoreless in a half for the first time since Nov. 7, 1992, Air Force took a 7-0 lead when Brown caught a pass at the Wyoming 5, split two defenders and dived into the end zone.
The Falcons had a chance to increase the lead, but Newman was stripped of the ball after a 30-yard catch, and Wyoming converted for its only score of the game.
Wyoming did little with its six first-half possessions, relying on running back Marques Brigham, who had 60 yards by halftime and 77 for the game. Brigham became the ninth back in Wyoming history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved