Football: Falcons bowl-eligible after win over Wyoming

  • Published
  • By Wayne Amann
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
The U.S. Air Force Academy Falcons capitalized on five Wyoming turnovers to rally past the Cowboys, 20-12, before a season-high 41,531 fans in football action Oct. 20 at Falcon Stadium here.

One of the key plays was when Falcons safety Bobby Giannini's forced fumble recovery for an 85-yard touchdown return early in the fourth quarter, which gave Air Force a 14-9 lead and the momentum. 

The win improved the bluesuiters to 6-2 overall and 5-1 in the Mountain West Conference. With four games left to play, the victory made them bowl eligible for the first time since 2003. NCAA Division I football teams must win a minimum of six games to be considered for a post-season bowl appearance. 

"Not having the opportunity to get into a bowl the past three seasons has been frustrating," said Falcons senior quarterback Shaun Carney. "Now we can take some pressure off our shoulders."

Wyoming (4-3, 1-2 MWC) pressured Air Force early by taking the opening kickoff and driving 80 yards in 15 plays. The extra-point was wide left and the Cowboys held a 6-0 lead after one quarter.

The Falcons responded in the second stanza when Carney hit z-back Chad Hall with a 5-yard touchdown strike to give Air Force its first lead. Carney, who completed just 6-of-10 passes for 52 yards in the game, also found wide receiver Mark Root wide open in the end zone for a 25-yard insurance touchdown off a well executed play-action fake in the fourth quarter.

The TD passes gave Carney 35 in his Falcon career, eclipsing the team record of 34 set by Rich Haynie, who set the mark from 1971 to 1973.

Hall, meanwhile, kept rolling with 167 yards rushing on 28 carries, his third straight 100-plus yard game on the ground. Hall has gained 592 yards in his last three games.

The Falcons trailed 9-7 early in the fourth quarter, when the opportunistic Air Force defense turned the tide.

Giannini, who recorded a game-high 15 tackles, 11 of them solos, spun Cowboys running back Wynel Seldon around at the Falcon 15-yard line and he appeared to drop the ball. Giannini scooped it up and coasted into the end zone.

"That was definitely a strange play," Giannini said. "There was no crowd noise, nothing was going on. I slowed down, turned around and the only guy chasing me was (Air Force linebacker) Drew Fowler. I slowed down and made sure I crossed the goal line. That was probably the slowest touchdown in history, but it counts."

The replay confirmed Giannini's reaction to finish the play.

The Air Force defense forced three other fumbles and intercepted two passes. One of the picks was authored by cornerback Carson Bird, his team-leading sixth of the season.

"Our defense just bowed their necks and was immense," said Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun. "We're riding the guts and hearts of our kids right now. We really showed some fortitude today."

For his performance, which also included three tackles for losses and two forced fumbles, Giannini was named the MWC Defensive Player of the Week. It was the third straight week a Falcon was tabbed in one of the player of the week categories.

Six wins doesn't guarantee a bowl berth, just eligibility. However, with four to play, two of those in the MWC, the team is in its best shape in some time.

The six victories are the most for Air Force since it went 7-5 in 2003. The Falcons' five conference wins are the most since 2000 and ensures their first winning conference
mark since going 4-3 in 2002. And their 5-1 MWC start is the Falcons' best since they opened 5-1 in 1998 as a member of the Western Athletic Conference.

"Now we have to continue to get wins and hopefully compete for the conference championship," Carney said.

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