Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
One year a Utah quarterback threw for a NCAA-record 631 yards only to see his team lose. Another time, Air Force overcame a 35-14 halftime deficit to win with 31 straight points. There was the time Utah scored 15 points in a 10-second span in the final minute to eke out an unbelievable one-point win. Or the time the clock ran out on the Utes before they could attempt a chip-shot game-winning field goal. Of course, who can forget tight end Ben Moa passing for the winning points in the triple-overtime game that propelled Utah on its 18-game winning streak.
From phantom fumbles to fantastic finishes, it's always something when Utah and Air Force get together, as they will Thursday night (5:30 p.m. MDT, ESPN-TV) at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Something wild and wacky always seems to happen when the Utah and Air Force meet on the football field.
"It seems like every single Air Force game has its own storyline that is one for the ages," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who has been a part of eight Utah-AFA games. "I can't remember one that is just normal."
Whittingham has it pegged. Looking at the history of the Utah-AFA series, at least since the Falcons joined the same league as the Utes in the early 1980s, nearly every game has featured unusual and memorable moments.
Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry, who has 21 years of experience playing Utah, agrees that games against Utah are more memorable than games against other opponents.
"We've always had very competitive games," said DeBerry, who can recall the smallest details of previous Ute-Falcon encounters over the past two decades. "I wouldn't expect it to be anything different this year."
Utah vs. Air Force just might be the most competitive college football series going. Just look at the numbers.
While Air Force owns a 13-8 all-time edge over the Utes, since 1990 when Ron McBride took over as coach, the series stands 6-6. During that time, Air Force has scored 29.8 points per game compared to Utah's 29.1 points per game.
Just two of the games in the past 15 years were not competitive the Falcons' 52-21 victory in 1990 and Utah's 41-24 win in 1993. Last year's 49-35 win by Utah year was the Utes' closest game of the year, one that wasn't decided until the fourth quarter.
Otherwise, the margin of every game was since 1990 has been less than 10 points with most of the games not being decided until the final minute.
Last year's game wasn't, but earlier this week, DeBerry was still talking about the fumble that turned the momemtum from Air Force to Utah.
It happened late in the third quarter after AFA quarterback Shaun Carney had run 16 yards to the Air Force 42. The Utes came out of the pile with the football and after a lengthy consultation, the officials signaled Utah ball.
DeBerry slammed his hat to the ground and complained later about how long it took the officials to make the call, although he didn't blame the call on his team's loss. But he obviously hasn't forgotten about it.
"The last two years haven't gone the way we hoped," he said. "Last year they came back after being down 14-0, but unfortunately we got a call we didn't totally agree with."
DeBerry can remember details of the Utah games right down to the correct scores in the middle of the games.
He recalled the 1986 game when the Falcons overcame a 35-14 halftime deficit by scoring 31 straight second-half points to win 45-35. He knew every detail of the crushing 1995 defeat when his team led the whole way only to lose in the final minute when Mike Fouts hit Kevin Dyson with a long touchdown pass.
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