Around the MTN: Winning is for the Birds
* A Mountain West press release contributed to this report
LARAMIE -- There weren't enough snowballs inside Canvas Stadium to stop the Falcons' and their vaunted triple-option attack.
Emmanuel Michel rushed for a game-high 130 yards and Zac Larrier threw for a score and ran for another in a commanding 30-13 victory over in-state rival Colorado State last Saturday night in Fort Collins.
Air Force rushed for 261 yards on 57 carries, averaging 4.6 per rush. The visitors scored three touchdowns on the ground, including the go-ahead tally from Larrier on a 1-yard run in the third quarter.
The Falcons received a free 15 yards on that critical drive thanks to a barrage of snowballs coming from the CSU student section. The home team was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
“I think we just keep fighting and keep pushing and just know that we've got to finish and eventually we’ll wear people out,” Michel told reporters postgame. "Nobody wants to take that punishment down the middle over and over again.”
Air Force moves to 8-0 overall and 5-0 in Mountain West play. The lone ranked team in the conference also jumped two spots in the polls to No. 17. Troy Calhoun's team claimed the Ram-Falcon Trophy for the seventh consecutive season.
Now, they set their sights on the biggest prize of them all -- The Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, which is awarded to the top service academy. Air Force already knocked off Navy this season. Army is on deck.
The Falcons and Black Knights will meet at 12:30 p.m. Mountain Time Saturday inside Denver's Empower Field at Mile High.
Here are some other news and notes from around the Mountain West landscape:
- Eleven Mountain West teams are in action in Week 10, starting with Colorado State visiting Wyoming on Friday night. No. 17 Air Force can clinch the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy on Saturday when it takes on rival Army West Point in Denver, Colorado, at Empower Field at Mile High.
- Air Force (8-0, 5-0 MW) moved up two spots to No. 17 in both the Associated Press and AFCA polls this week. The Falcons are riding a 13-game winning streak, matching the longest in program history and currently the fourth-longest active streak in the FBS. Every victory during the streak has been by at least six points. That is four games better than the next-longest active such win streak in the FBS (Georgia, 9) and tied for the longest in MW history with Utah (13 straight wins by 6-plus points from Dec. 31, 2003, to Jan. 1, 2005).
- Two other MW teams are receiving votes in the national polls this week. Fresno State (7-1, 3-1) is receiving votes in both the AP and AFCA polls, while UNLV (6-2, 3-1) is receiving votes in the AFCA poll.
- Air Force, which earned a 17-6 win at Navy in Week 8, would retain the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy with a win over Army on Saturday. The Falcons pulled away from in-state rival Colorado State in the second half in Week 9, scoring 17 unanswered points after halftime for a 30-13 win. Senior fullback Emmanuel Michel carried 20 times for 130 yards and a touchdown on the snowy evening, while senior running back John Lee Eldridge III and senior quarterback Zac Larrier also ran for scores, with Larrier also throwing for a TD. Senior safety Jalen Mergerson took advantage of his first career start to lead the Falcons with 13 tackles and two pass breakups, while senior safety Trey Taylor added 10 tackles.
- Colorado State (3-5, 1-3) hung tough with the Falcons in the first half, taking a 10-7 lead on Jordan Noyes’s 40-yard field goal midway through the second quarter. After Air Force found the end zone to regain the lead, the graduate kicker tied the contest at 13 with a 49-yard make in the snow just 45 seconds before halftime. Redshirt freshman quarterback Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi fell just shy of his fifth 300-yard passing game of the season, as he finished 28-for-45 for 297 yards and a TD. Sophomore wide receiver Justus Ross-Simmons caught eight of those passes for 128 yards, including a 61-yard TD that tied the score at 7 just seconds into the second quarter. Redshirt freshman defensive end Nuer Gatkuoth had a game-high and career-best 15 tackles for the Rams, who held an opponent to fewer than 300 yards of total offense (291) for the first time this season.
- Colorado State is one of two teams in the FBS, along with Ole Miss, to have three different players with 500+ receiving yards this season. Tory Horton leads the Rams with 790 yards, Dallin Holker has 620 and Ross-Simmons has 505.
- Wyoming (5-3, 2-2) fell 32-7 at Boise State in Week 9. The Cowboys struggled on offense, getting their lone score on a 19-yard touchdown toss from graduate quarterback Andrew Peasley to sophomore tight end John Michael Gyllenborg in the first quarter after sophomore safety Andrew Johnson pounced on a muffed punt at the Broncos’ 19-yard line. That was all the offense for Wyoming, however, as it failed to cross into Boise State territory in the second half. Junior linebackers Easton Gibbs and Shae Suiaunoa had 11 tackles each to lead Wyoming. The Cowboys saw the return of junior running back Harrison Waylee, who missed the previous game with injury and entered the contest averaging 135.0 rushing yards per contest.
- Boise State (4-4, 3-1) visits Fresno State (7-1, 3-1) in a battle of teams with 3-1 league records. The Broncos claimed a pair of MW weekly honors after their win over Wyoming, with sophomore wide receiver Eric McAlister earning Offensive Player of the Week honors and quarterback Maddux Madsen earning Freshman of the Week distinction for the second time this season. McAlister had a career-best seven catches for 160 yards and a TD, while Madsen went 12-for-15 for 147 yards and a TD, completing his final 10 passes on the day. Boise State also saw the return of senior running back George Holani, who had missed several games with injury. Holani had 20 carries for 75 yards.
- Boise State’s Ashton Jeanty and San José State’s Kairee Robinson are tied for the FBS lead with 15 scrimmage touchdowns. The last time a single conference had two players finish a season tied for the FBS lead in scrimmage TDs was the MAC in 1997, with Randy Moss of Marshall and Travis Prentice of Miami (OH).
- Fresno State earned a big win in Week 9, topping UNLV 31-24 in a clash of 6-1 teams. The Bulldogs used a dominant third quarter to overcome a 17-7 halftime deficit, scoring 24 points in the frame and forcing three Rebel turnovers. Senior safety Dean Clark had a hand in two of those turnovers, intercepting a pass to set up a Fresno State field goal and then recovering a fumble on the next UNLV possession, which led to a Bulldog touchdown. For his efforts, he was named the MW Defensive Player of the Week. Sophomore quarterback Mikey Keene returned after missing a game with injury to go 27-for-41 for 256 yards and four TDs. Keene now has three games this season with at least four passing touchdowns, and only Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. (5) and Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders (4) have more such games this season in the FBS.
- The winner of two straight following its 16-game losing streak, Nevada (2-6, 2-2) hosts Hawai‘i in Week 10, looking for its third straight win. The Wolf Pack raced out to a 24-0 lead over New Mexico in Week 9 and held on for a 34-24 win. Nevada saw senior kicker Brandon Talton match his career high with four field goals made, while sophomore defensive back Richard Toney Jr. returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown and Jamaal Bell and Jacques Badolato-Birdsell scored rushing touchdowns Talton added two extra points for a 14-point day and was named the MW Special Teams Player of the Week, his eighth career weekly honor.
- Hawai‘i (2-8, 0-4) fell 35-0 to San José State in Week 9. The Rainbow Warriors were held to a season-low 198 yards of total offense and were shut out for the first time since 2017. Junior quarterback Brayden Schager saw his streak of 300-yard passing games snapped at three, as he was 17-for-29 for 132 yards. Sophomore defensive back Peter Manuma paced Hawai‘i was seven tackles, while sophomore linebacker Jalen Smith had five, including a game-high three tackles for loss. Senior linebacker Isaiah Tufaga forced a fumble.
- UNLV saw its five-game winning streak snapped with a 31-24 setback at Fresno State in Week 9 despite holding a 10-point halftime lead. The Rebels were undone by a third quarter in which they had three turnovers – more than they had had in their previous four games combined – and totaled just 19 yards of offense. Trailing by seven points in the waning seconds of the contest, UNLV was intercepted on third-and-goal with just three seconds left to drop its first MW game of the season. Junior wide receiver Ricky White had a big game with seven catches for 152 yards and two touchdowns for his third 100-yard receiving game of the season. On defense, junior defensive back Cameron Oliver had a game-high 12 tackles, including two tackles for loss, and added an interception and a sack. UNLV visits New Mexico in Week 10.
- New Mexico (3-5, 1-3) fell 34-24 to Nevada in Week 9, righting the ship in the second half after trailing 24-0 at halftime and throwing three interceptions in the opening frame that Nevada was able to turn into 18 points. Senior quarterback Dylan Hopkins was 18-for-34 for 271 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown to senior wide receiver Jeremiah Hixon in the third quarter. Sophomore kicker Luke Drzewiecki got the Lobos on the board with a career-long 47-yard field goal in the third quarter.
- Both idle last week, San Diego State and Utah State bring identical 3-5 overall marks and 1-3 MW records into their Saturday contest.
- The Aztecs fell 6-0 to Nevada in Week 8. San Diego State limited the Wolf Pack to just 242 yards of total offense but could muster just 204 and was shut out for the first time in nearly five years. The Aztecs still had a chance for the win late but fumbled the ball away at the Nevada 23-yard line with just over a minute to play. Senior quarterback Jalen Mayden was SDSU’s leading rusher with 52 yards, while he also completed six passes for 47 yards.
- Utah State dropped a 42-21 decision at San José State last time out. Junior wide receiver Jalen Royals caught a touchdown pass for the fourth straight game and is one off the FBS lead with 10 TD catches this season. He’s joined in the top 10 by senior wide receiver Terrell Vaughn, who is tied for 10th with eight TDs. Freshman quarterback McCae Hillstead was 17-for-29 for 160 yards and two touchdowns in the setback to the Spartans. Graduate inside linebacker MJ Tafisi Jr. had a game-high 14 tackles and ranks eighth in the FBS with 10.4 per game.
Boise State sophomore wide receiver Eric McAlister has been named the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week, while Fresno State senior safety Dean Clark has been tabbed MW Defensive Player of the Week. Nevada senior kicker Brandon Talton earned MW Special Teams Player of the Week honors and Boise State quarterback Maddux Madsen was selected as the MW Freshman of the Week.
The weekly honor is the eighth of Talton’s career, as he extended his lead among active MW players for weekly selections. It is the second of Madsen’s career and the first for McAlister and Clark.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
ERIC MCALISTER, BOISE STATE
Sophomore, Wide Receiver, Azle, Texas / Azle HS
- Had a career-high seven catches for 160 yards and a touchdown in Boise State’s 32-7 win over Wyoming.
- Averaged 22.9 yards per catch, with six of his seven receptions resulting in either a first down or touchdown.
- All seven catches went for 12 yards or more.
- His long reception of the day was a 49-yard touchdown catch to open the scoring in the first quarter.
- Also had a 36-yard catch that set up a Bronco touchdown on the first drive of the second half.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
DEAN CLARK, FRESNO STATE
Senior, Safety, Massillon, Ohio / Massillon Washington HS / Kent State
- Tied for the team lead with eight tackles and had a fumble recovery and an interception in Fresno State’s 31-24 win over UNLV.
- Grabbed his first interception as a Bulldog in the third quarter, returning it four yards and setting up a Fresno State field goal.
- On the next UNLV possession, Clark recovered a fumble to give Fresno State the ball again, which would lead to a touchdown.
- Was part of a defense that held the Rebels to just 19 yards in the third quarter.
- Had a hand in two of the Bulldog defense’s four turnovers against a team that hadn’t had more than two in a game all season.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK
BRANDON TALTON, NEVADA
Senior, Kicker, Vacaville, Calif. / Vacaville HS
- Went 4-for-4 to match his career high with four field goals in Nevada’s 34-24 win over New Mexico, adding a pair of extra points for a 14-point day.
- Connected on field goals from 34, 47, 52 and 22 yards, extending his MW record to 78 career field goals.
- The 52-yarder was the sixth field goal of his career of 50 yards or more.
- Hit three of his field goals in the first half as the Wolf Pack built a 24-0 lead.
- Moved into solo possession of second on Nevada’s career scoring list and third in MW history with 370 points.
FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
MADDUX MADSEN, BOISE STATE
Redshirt Freshman, Quarterback, American Fork, Utah / American Fork HS
- Went 12-for-15 for 147 yards and a touchdown in Boise State’s 32-7 win over Wyoming.
- Turned in a passing efficiency rating of 184.3 on the day.
- Completed his final 10 passes, while his 12 completions were a career high.
- Threw a 6-yard TD pass with 1:44 left in the third quarter to make it a 29-7 game.
- Had five carries for 24 yards, with his long rush of 10 yards picking up a first down.
University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players
Gallery Credit: 7220Sports.com
- University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players