Redshirt senior quarterback Colby Kirkegaard threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns, including the game winner with 58 seconds left, to guide the University of Wyoming football team to a hard-fought 17-13 win over Air Force on Saturday night at War Memorial Stadium. The Cowboys trailed the majority of the game in front of 21,246 fans, before outscoring the Falcons 10-3 in the final quarter to pick up the 300th home win in program history.
"There have been a lot of great games between Wyoming and Air Force," UW head coach Craig Bohl said. "This was certainly one of those. It was a hard-fought game, lots of ebbs and flows during the course of the game and a lot of momentum to have our players keep believing in our system. We have room for improvement, no question, but this was a hard-fought win and we are going to enjoy it."
After the Falcons (1-1, 0-1 MW) notched a field goal with 3:25 left to take a 13-10 lead, Kirkegaard helped the Cowboys (2-0, 1-0 MW) take control of the contest with a steady hand. He went 6-of-7 on UW's final drive, including a 25-yard strike to sophomore wide receiver Tanner Gentry to take the Pokes to midfield and a three-yard touchdown toss to senior tight end J.D. Krill for the game-winning score. Air Force would drive to UW's 15 in the final minute, but couldn't manage a last shot at the endzone.
"It was a big-time catch by J.D. [Krill] and it's one that not only I'll remember, but he probably will as well," Bohl said. "In our offense we utilize the tight end in the pro-style offense, so it's been good to have him here and he's been a pleasant surprise."
Kirkegaard's career day came on 23-of-37, including two 41-yard strikes to senior wide receiver Dominic Rufran. Kirkegaard posted career highs in touchdown passes, yards, completions and attempts. Rufran finished with six catches for 119 yards to extend his streak of consecutive games with a catch to 39, the second-longest in the nation. Gentry added eight catches for a career-high 91 yards. Defensively, senior linebackers Jordan Stanton and Devyn Harris paced the Pokes with 13 tackles apiece. Both also forced a fumble and Stanton added a sack. Senior free safety Darrenn White added a career-best 12 tackles.
Air Force won the statistical battle, as the Falcons racked up a 377-333 advantage in total yards, including 151-51 in rushing yards. The Pokes finished ahead in passing yards, 282-226, but managed just 4-of-14 on third-down conversions. Wyoming committed just two penalties for 15 yards and has totaled three for 19 yards on the season.
The Falcons found their stride early in the game and took their first possession deep into Wyoming territory, before a sack by senior defensive tackle Patrick Mertens stalled the drive. AF converted a 50-yard field goal, though, to take a 3-0 lead three minutes into the game. Air Force drove again on its second drive, but a 39-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left. Both teams cranked up the defense for a while, before the Falcons extended the lead to 10-0 on a touchdown midway through the second quarter.
Wyoming quickly responded with a touchdown on the arm of Kirkegaard. He connected with Rufran for a 41-yard bomb down the right-side of the field and capped the drive with an 11-yard strike to senior wide receiver Jalen Claiborne in the back of the endzone. The 75-yard march was UW's longest scoring drive of the season and pulled the Pokes within 10-7 with just over four minutes left in the half.
Air Force ended the first half with a 199-132 advantage in total yards, including 64-30 in rushing yards. The Falcons converted 4 of 9 third-down attempts to just 2 of 7 for Wyoming. Kirkegaard hit 10 of 17 pass attempts for 102 yards in the first half, while Rufran had three catches for 65 yards.
The second half continued to be a defensive battle as the teams combined for six punts in the third quarter. Wyoming threatened when Kirkegaard hit Rufran for another 41-yard pass and the Pokes drove to AF's 29-yard line, but UW couldn't convert a fourth-and-one play. Air Force opened the fourth quarter with an attempt at a fourth-and-one of its own, but Stanton forced a fumble that Mertens recovered near midfield. Kirkegaard connected with Gentry for 21 yards to push the ball into the redzone, but Wyoming had to settle for a 33-yard field goal from Stuart Williams to tie the contest at 10-10.
The Falcons responded with a drive inside UW's 10, but senior cornerback Blair Burns notched a tackle for loss for nine yards to force a 32-yard field goal. The score capped an 18-play drive in 7:50 that put Air Force in front 13-10 with 3:25 left. Kirkegaard guided Wyoming on the game-winning drive afterwards.
Wyoming hits the road for the first time this season with a contest at Oregon next Saturday at noon MT.