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Lobos take bite out of Falcons bowl chances

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Air Force halfback Darnell Stephens cuts upfield to avoid the grasp of New Mexico linebacker Billy Strother.  The junior rushed four times for 27 yards and the team's sole touchdown during Air Force's 24-12 loss to the University of New Mexico Lobos on Nov. 15.  (U.S. Air Force photo by John Van Winkle)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Air Force halfback Darnell Stephens cuts upfield to avoid the grasp of New Mexico linebacker Billy Strother. The junior rushed four times for 27 yards and the team's sole touchdown during Air Force's 24-12 loss to the University of New Mexico Lobos on Nov. 15. (U.S. Air Force photo by John Van Winkle)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Air Force tight end Adam Strecker tries to break his fall, after making an off-balance catch for a 17-yard gain.  The senior had four receptions for 55 yards during the Falcons' 24-12 loss to the University of New Mexico Lobos on Nov. 15.  (U.S. Air Force photo by John Van Winkle)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Air Force tight end Adam Strecker tries to break his fall, after making an off-balance catch for a 17-yard gain. The senior had four receptions for 55 yards during the Falcons' 24-12 loss to the University of New Mexico Lobos on Nov. 15. (U.S. Air Force photo by John Van Winkle)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Falcons fullback Steve Massie covers the ball with both hands and plows straight ahead, after finding an unexpectedly wide running lane carved out for him up the middle.  The senior carried the ball four times for 24 yards during the Falcons' 24-12 loss to the University of New Mexico on Nov. 15.  (U.S. Air Force photo by John Van Winkle)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Falcons fullback Steve Massie covers the ball with both hands and plows straight ahead, after finding an unexpectedly wide running lane carved out for him up the middle. The senior carried the ball four times for 24 yards during the Falcons' 24-12 loss to the University of New Mexico on Nov. 15. (U.S. Air Force photo by John Van Winkle)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AFPN) -- The University of New Mexico Lobos took a 24-12 bite out of the U.S. Air Force Academy’s bowl aspirations with a dominating win at Lobo Stadium on Nov. 15.

“They certainly made the plays, their team deserved to win, and they were the better football team today,” said Fisher DeBerry, Falcons head coach. “We did not make enough plays in the game and only had the one turnover."

Lobos running back DonTrell Moore scored twice on 1-yard runs to put the Lobos up by 14, before the Falcons got within scoring range. But the Lobos defense was tight on the perimeter against the run, which halved the Falcon’s usually dominant rushing production and left the offense to again settle for Joey Ashcroft’s field goals when touchdowns were needed.

“It was simply a matter of them being able to make plays,” DeBerry said.

“I’m not disappointed with the way our guys fought today. They played hard, but we didn’t just didn’t make enough plays to be a good football team,” DeBerry said.

The Lobos extended their lead to 18 with a Wes Zunker field goal and a 10-yard touchdown catch by Adrian Boyd.

New Mexico kept its end zone Falcon-free until halfback Darnell Stephens crossed the goal line on a 1-yard run to bring the Falcons within 12, with 1:57 left in the game. The Falcons failed to convert the 2-point attempt or come up with the on-side kick, and the Lobos were able to run the clock out for a 24-12 victory.

The Falcons dropped to 7-4 with the loss, while the Lobos improved their record to 7-4.

The loss also deals a virtual deathblow to the Falcons’ outside chances of winning the Mountain West Conference title, and muddles the postseason bowl picture even further. Air Force now ranks third out of the four bowl-eligible teams in the conference who are all aiming for the three bowl games for the conference. Three other conference teams can become bowl-eligible by winning each of their remaining games, which makes Air Force’s game on Nov. 22 against San Diego State University all the more important, De Berry said.

“If … we could figure out a way to win another game, that would give us eight wins, and somebody would have to hopefully take a look at us,” DeBerry said, who has led the Falcons to 18 winning seasons and 12 bowl games in his 20 years as Air Force’s head football coach.

“But there are no guarantees. There are no assurances,” he said.

“I think we’re an attractive team for any bowl because of the way our people travel and the things we can bring to a bowl,” DeBerry said. “But hey, we’re not thinking about that. All we got to figure out now is how we can regroup, come back and be a better football team next week.”

For the players, the pain of the loss and giving up 188 yards to Moore will linger until they hit the field for practice Nov. 17, and for some, until the first snap of the final regular-season game Nov. 22.

“I’m just hurting inside, knowing that we could’ve played a lot better,” said Trevor Hightower, Falcons senior linebacker. “It’s going to hurt me until we play San Diego. But I really just can’t wait to get to practice because we’re going to need to play our best game against them.

“I just know that … this next week’s game is going to have a lot to do with how we’re remembered as a team,” he said.

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