LARAMIE — The last time Josiah Hall played in Colorado Springs, Colorado, he was a senior for Falcon High School playing a state semifinal loss.
The Wyoming defensive lineman is hoping for a better result when he returns to his home town Saturday.
“I’m out here scrambling for tickets,” he said. “I’ve got quite a few family and friends coming, so I’m excited.”
The Cowboys take on the Air Force Falcons in a series that has become somewhat of a rivalry in recent years, even if no trophy is involved.
“I know tensions have been pretty high between us and them,” Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen said. “I don’t think there’s any love lost between us two. It’s going to be fun going down there and dueling it out with those guys down there.”
The Cowboys will be playing in their second straight rivalry contest after pulling off a comeback Border War win against Colorado State last week.
“It allows us to have the want and will to prepare a little harder than maybe we normally would against another conference opponent,” Allen said. “It just adds a little more to what’s at the table, and we know to stay in the hunt for a Mountain West championship game, we’ve got to win out. We’re looking forward to this week, and it’s going to be a good test for us.”
The rivalry’s most publicly hostile moment in recent years was the profane outburst former Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen directed at Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun, which produced a one-game suspension for Christensen. Hall, whose recruiting came down to Air Force and Wyoming, said the Falcons tried to use the incident to sway him in their favor.
“They were kind of using it against me,” Hall said. “It was weird.”
Proximity lends fuel to the rivalry, too. Wyoming’s roster lists 25 players from the state of Colorado, including four from Colorado Springs itself.
“I mean, it’s a game,” said receiver Austin Conway, an Aurora, Colorado, native whom Air Force recruited as a quarterback. “You want to win every single one of them. But being a Colorado guy, especially going down there, I get the opportunity to play in front of my family and my friends, everyone in Colorado, so that means a lot.
“But as far as beating a Colorado team, I mean, I want to beat everybody. But I want to beat Colorado teams even more.”
Wyoming’s attitude this weekend toward its other rival from the state below is the polar opposite. Colorado State hosts Boise State on Saturday, and the Cowboys need two Broncos losses if they want to return to the Mountain West Football Championship Game.
“Yeah, I have a couple friends on the team,” Conway said, “and I was telling them, ‘Go ahead and take care of business next week.’ I mean, it was pretty cool, because we were talking stuff leading into the game, and in the game we were all talking stuff to each over. After the game, it’s all love, but now I’m rooting for them.”
Air Force itself is still in the Mountain Division mix with a 3-2 conference record, but the Falcons have had their struggles this season, especially outside of the Mountain West. The Falcons began the season with a win over VMI of the Football Championship Subdivision but then lost four straight games. After picking up three conference wins, the Falcons were shut out last week by Army at home, failing to score a point in a game for the first time since George H.W. Bush was president.
The Falcons have had their growing pains in 2017 after losing 10 defensive starters in the offseason. No team in the nation has allowed more yards per carry this season than the Falcons. And if the Cowboys choose to air it out at the Air Force Academy, they’ll be doing so against a defense that has faced fewer passing attempts than any other team in the country.
Offensively, though, the Air Force’s triple option remains dangerous. Even after the shutout, the Falcons lead the Mountain West in points per game. The Cowboys stymied the option enough to pick up a win last year in Laramie, but Arion Worthman has taken over at quarterback since then, bringing an added element of speed to the Falcon backfield.
Whether by land or air, the Cowboys, who have won five of six, need to maintain the edge they’ve held under Craig Bohl in the Air Force rivalry this weekend.
Maybe they’ll get a Colorado State win, too.
“Yeah,” Allen said. “I mean, go Pokes, though.”