Air Force 10, Wyoming 0
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP)Connor Dietz was roaming the sideline in the first half, trying to fire up his teammates through words.
That didn't work nearly as well as Dietz's play once he got on the field.
The backup quarterback came off the bench in the second half to spark the Air Force offense, leading the Falcons to a 10-0 win over Wyoming on Saturday.
"Connor on the field is just so intense," said Jared Tew, who gained 105 yards on a career-high tying 27 carries. "That intensity pumps everyone else up."
The Falcons (4-3, 3-1 Mountain West) definitely needed some sort of spark after gaining 79 yards in the first half behind starter Tim Jefferson, who was returning after a balky right ankle sidelined him for the TCU game.
Dietz entered soon after halftime and guided the Falcons to their two scores, a 29-yard field goal by Erik Soderberg and a game-sealing 17-yard touchdown run by Tew in the fourth quarter.
"It's great to have the coaches' confidence and know that they believe in me," Dietz said.
That cushion was more than enough for Air Force's defense, one of the stingiest in the nation. The Falcons shut out a conference opponent for the first time since a 24-0 win at Colorado State in 1997.
"We told the offense, 'Just get some points on the board and we'll do everything we can to keep them out of the end zone," linebacker Justin Moore said. "Coming off the field after a few series, we were looking around saying, 'Guys, we can shut them out."'
The Cowboys (4-3, 2-1) were rolling coming into Saturday. They had won three straight and were averaging more than 32 points a game since freshman Austyn Carta-Samuels took over at quarterback.
But Carta-Samuels struggled against the Falcons, completing 14 of 31 passes for 74 yards. He also threw an interception as the Cowboys never moved the ball inside the red zone.
"We need to fix it. I need to fix it," said Carta-Samuels, who was sacked six times. "I am disappointed and we are ashamed as a unit because we didn't pick it up for our defense."
A stout Cowboys defense kept Air Force at bay for most of the game, but wore down late. Brian Hendricks finished with 23 tackles for Wyoming and John Fletcher had two sacks.
"We didn't do badly," Wyoming nose guard Fred Givens said. "I think it was our best performance all year. We shut them for a half."
And then came the switch.
Dietz was more mobile on his feet than Jefferson, who at times looked as if he was favoring the ankle. Air Force coach Troy Calhoun insisted that wasn't the case in practice leading up to the game.
"He looked full tilt," Calhoun said of Jefferson. "I thought he looked as explosive as he had since our first game."
As for who will start next week at Utah, Calhoun wouldn't make that decision until at least Monday. He also indicated that this might be a season in which the Falcons employ a two-quarterback system.
"I think both guys realize they have contributions that we're going to need," Calhoun said. "Both guys are only going to get better."
The Cowboys missed out on several scoring opportunities, including a crucial one late in the first half when they caught the Falcons in a coverage mix up.
Brandon Stewart broke into the clear along the sideline, but Carta-Samuels' pass sailed wide and Stewart was unable to make the catch in-bounds near the Air Force 10. They subsequently had a field goal blocked as time ran out in the first half.
"I moved too close to the sideline and the ball was thrown out of bounds," said Stewart, who finished with 51 yards rushing. "Penalties and mental mistakes killed us."
Both teams can lay claim to that. The Falcons were penalized 13 times for 125 yards, upsetting Calhoun.
"We probably had as many penalties today as we've had in a long, long time," Calhoun said. "That can't happen at the Air Force Academy."
Wyoming coach Dave Christensen shouldered the blame for his team's miscues and mistakes.
"That's coaching. That's my fault. I didn't prepare them well enough for the crowd noise and those kinds of things," said Christensen, whose team was penalized 10 times for 71 yards. "I did an awful job of preparing the team for it."