AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — What do you want first, the good news or the bad news?
The good news for Wyoming fans: Their Cowboys were the winners Saturday night at Falcon Stadium, beating Front Range opponent Air Force 28-14 for a much-needed divisional win. The bad news: They suffered a loss that could have significance reaching far beyond the outcome of a single game.
Josh Allen left the game four plays into the second half with an injury that affected his ability to throw properly.
Allen, a projected first-round NFL draft selection and the preseason Mountain West player of the year, was hurt on Wyoming’s final full drive of the first half. He started the second half but left in pain after his first throw dipped uncharacteristically low.
Head coach Craig Bohl would not disclose Allen’s injury after the game, and Allen was not made available for interviews. Allen did not remove his right hand from his pocket as he left the stadium. Bohl believed the injury came on Allen’s final throw of the first half, during which he was hit, but Allen also appeared to be shaken up two plays earlier while being hit on the second half of a double pass.
Junior backup quarterback Nick Smith took over, and Wyoming subsequently punted on its first three drives of the half. But with Wyoming’s offense rattled, Air Force driving in Wyoming territory and the inevitability of a lost three-score lead looming, Falcons quarterback Arion Worthman lost the ball after pulling it back on an option play and Cowboy freshman Garrett Crall recovered. Wyoming’s offense responded with its only scoring drive of the second half. It was the only score the Cowboys needed.
Wyoming scored 21 of its 28 points off Air Force’s three turnovers, and the Cowboys looked poised for a long-awaited breakout offensive performance before Allen’s injury. The junior quarterback, who nearly left Wyoming after the 2016 season for the NFL, completed his first eight passes of the game, one of which was a 17-yard touchdown to true freshman Jared Scott that was also Scott’s first career catch.
Trey Woods, who had averaged 2.4 yards per carry as a starter, averaged 4.3 on Saturday and ran in his first touchdown since September. Allen had a rushing touchdown of his own to give Wyoming its 21-0 lead.
One Cowboys drive was lost to a Kellen Overstreet fumble, another ended on a string of three negative plays, and the drive on which Allen was injured produced just 1 yard. But on every other Allen-led drive, not including his kneel to end the first half, Wyoming scored a touchdown and averaged nearly 8 yards per play.
The Cowboys’ defense didn’t take long to put its offense in good position. It ended the Falcons’ first drive of the game by intercepting Worthman’s first pass. Four plays later, Woods ran in his score from 1 yard out. To set up another true freshman touchdown, Wyoming’s defense forced another turnover. Logan Wilson jarred the ball from Taven Birdow’s hands, and Jalen Ortiz landed on it in Air Force territory. Two plays later, Allen and Scott connected.
A week after Army won 21-0 over Air Force in the Falcons’ first shutout since 1992, Wyoming took a 21-0 lead of its own with a 10-play, 69-yard drive that ended on Allen’s run.
The score didn’t stick, though. Wyoming failed to make the Falcons pay for their second turnover on downs, Allen was injured in the process, and Air Force marched 80 yards in the final three minutes of the first half. Worthman’s first two completions of the game came on that drive, a 23-yarder to Geraud Sanders, and a 22-yarder to Marcus Bennett for the touchdown.
The Falcons cut the margin to seven with a drive paced by Timothy McVey’s 33-yard reception and capped by Birdow’s 10-yard run. Wyoming’s defense held on its next appearance but was going to need help. It got help, twofold. First, Worthman dropped the ball on the turf. Then, Smith and the Wyoming offense reinvented itself.
Nico Evans, typically a receiving or pass-protection back, took a third-down carry for 10 yards. Woods, typically a power runner, caught a 38-yard pass from Smith. Smith, who hasn’t started a game since 2015, took a designed power run 5 yards for a first down. And Overstreet, who had Wyoming’s game-winning touchdown last week against Colorado State, finished the drive with a physical 9-yard run.
Nearly 9 minutes remained, a stretch that included just one more Wyoming first down, but the Cowboys’ defense protected the end zone, the lead and the win.
The theme of good starts and bad finishes continued after Wyoming’s game concluded. Wyoming needs two losses from Mountain Division-leading Boise State to have any chance of returning to the conference title game, and Colorado State appeared to be doing its rival a favor as it led Boise State by 14 with 3:02 to play late Saturday. But the Broncos rallied to win 59-52 in overtime. They can clinch the division championship with a win in either of their last two games.
Allen finished the game 8-of-11 for 70 yards, a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown. Whether he will ever play another down for Wyoming remains to be seen.
For now, Wyoming is 7-3, 5-1 in their conference and 4-1 in their division.
As for tomorrow, the Cowboy State can only hope for good news.