A Homecoming Stomp – Cougar Defense Stifles Falcons

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By Ryan Comer

Rumbling into LaVell Edwards Stadium Saturday hoping to put the Mountain West Conference in an early season chokehold, the Air Force Falcons sputtered out, realizing why BYU is the defending champion.

Blowing off the sting from two consecutive non-conference defeats on the road, the Cougars (2-2) arrived home and grounded the rising Falcons (3-1) 31-6.

Max Hall had another impressive start, completing 23 of 33 passes for 291 yards as well as two touchdowns to lead the offense and the defense looked as impenetrable as it did during much of last season and the first two games of this season.

Air Force finished the game with just 231 total yards, a far cry from the 595 Tulsa had last week, and converted only three of 13 third down attempts.

“You can”t help but smile as you see the execution and the result,” linebacker Bryan Kehl said after the game. “What a great day for the defense.”

The Cougar defense made its presence felt early when during the game”s opening drive, BYU defensive back Quinn Gooch picked off a Shaun Carney pass on third and seven, setting the Cougars up inside Air Force territory.

Kehl said the momentum from the turnover was huge for the Cougars.

“The game of football is definitely a game of momentum and if you look at the two games that we lost, we didn”t do a good job of managing momentum,” he said. “Getting that turnover for us right at the start of the game was huge. ”

The Cougars wasted little time successfully managing the momentum generated from the turnover.

On the Cougars” first play from scrimmage, Hall found tight end Dennis Pitta wide open down the middle for a 21-yard completion. Five plays later, running back Manase Tonga plowed into the end zone standing up for a one-yard touchdown run to give the Cougars an early 7-0 lead.

Pitta, who made six receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown in last week”s 55-47 loss at Tulsa, had another impressive day Saturday, leading the team in receiving with five catches for 114 yards.

“Dennis is really getting a nice feel with Max and it”s been a very effective combination for us,” said head coach Bronco Mendenhall.

The Cougars made it 14-0 early in the second quarter when on third and seven from the Air Force eight, Hall hit wide receiver Matt Allen over the middle for a touchdown pass, capping a 12-play 56-yard drive.

BYU added a field goal with 1:14 remaining in the first half to extend the lead to 17-0 going into halftime.

The Cougars were able to ride the momentum gained in the first half through their opening possession of the second half. Starting on their own 20, Hall nailed Pitta for an 18-yard completion on first down. Three plays later and backed on their own 29 from a holding penalty, Hall and Pitta connected once again, this time for 29 yards on third and 19. The drive concluded when on fourth and eight on the Air Force 28-yard line, Hall floated a touchdown pass to running back Harvey Unga who was streaking down the sideline.

Hall joked afterwards that he didn”t think Unga was going to be fast enough to catch up to the ball.

The touchdown put the Cougars up 24-0 and all but out of the Falcon”s sights.

The lone score for Air Force came halfway through the third quarter. Starting on their own 33-yard line, Carney led the Falcons down the field 67 yards on five plays. The biggest play of the drive was a 49-yard completion to Chad Hall that took the Falcons all the way down to the Cougar 15. The Falcons would score when on third and three at the Cougar eight, Carney scrambled around the left end for a touchdown. The Falcons, however, failed the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, keeping the score at 24-6.

The Cougars” final score of the game came on the very next drive when using only 4:40, the Cougars went 80 yards on 11 plays. Tonga collected his second touchdown of the game, running into the end zone on first and goal from the Air Force one, putting the Cougars up 31-6.

After beating Air Force, Kehl spoke of the motivation the Cougars had going into Saturday”s game after last week”s loss.

“Anytime you”re a competitive person and you have someone just come out and put that many points up on you in that manner, in that fashion and almost at will at times, it”s frustrating,” he said. “It makes you mad, it makes you disappointed. So there”s a lot of people who definitely came out with chips on their shoulders and they did a good job of playing better today. You win some you lose some but the key is to get up after you”ve fallen and push forward and play better each week.”

Along with being impressed with the effort put forth by the defense, Mendenhall was also impressed with Hall”s continued maturation as the team”s starting quarterback.

Mendenhall was particularly impressed when after getting knocked down really hard on the first play of the third quarter and slowly making his way to the sidelines, Hall was ready to go again after only one play of rest.

“I think Max took another step forward,” Mendenhall said. “I think it”s continued progress. I think it”s continued poise. I think it”s continued confidence and I think it”s continued understanding.”

Hall said after the game he felt great despite the hit.

“It”s part of the game, you get hit sometimes,” he said.

The win Saturday marked the fourth consecutive year BYU has defeated Air Force. It was also the first loss of the season for the Falcons, who started the season with two impressive conference victories against Utah and TCU.

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