Classic contest: Utah vs. Air Force history is full of fantastic finishes

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 21 2005 9:37 a.m. MDT

Whittingham can also recall the details of several Utah-Air Force contests. The 2002 game in Salt Lake when the Utes blew a 26-6 halftime lead and lost 30-26 still sticks in his craw. The 2003 game was thrilling for Ute fans, but Whittingham, the defensive coordinator at the time, called it a "defensive fiasco," since his team gave up 43 points.

The first Utah-Air Force encounter was in 1957 when Utah won 34-0 in Salt Lake City. The following year, the two teams met in Colorado Springs with the Falcons winning 16-14.

The two schools didn't meet again until 1983 and once more the Falcons won a two-point game in Colorado 33-31. The Utes won the following year when they overcame an early 17-0 deficit to win 28-17 under Chuck Stobart. The Falcons reeled off five straight wins while Jim Fassel was the Ute coach and ever since then, the series has been even.

Here's a look at some of the more memorable Ute-Falcon games:

1986 (SLC) — A week after getting thumped by Ohio State 64-6, the Utes jump out to a 35-14 halftime lead. However Jim Fassel's offense goes to sleep in the second half and the Falcons roar back to take a 45-35 victory. The Utes don't recover and lose their next four games and finish the season at 2-9.

1988 (SLC) — Scott Mitchell passes for an NCAA-record 631 yards, but the porous Ute defense allows the Falcons, behind quarterback Dee Dowis, to rush for 640 yards. The teams trade touchdowns all afternoon before the Falcons emerge with a 56-49 victory.

1989 (SLC) — In what turned out to be Fassel's final game as Ute coach, the Utes storm back from a 42-18 deficit with 20 straight points behind quarterback Mike Richmond, who hadn't practiced for two weeks because of a sore arm. With less than two minutes left, Richmond's pass to a wide-open freshman Bryan Rowley, bounces off his hands at the 5-yard line, ending the Utes' hopes in a 42-38 loss.

1991 (SLC) — Trailing 24-21, the Utes drive to the 5-yard line inside the final minute. On fourth down, Ute coach Ron McBride opts to go for the tie (this was before overtimes in college football). However, Chris Yergensen's 23-yard field goal try is blocked by Carlton McDonald, giving the Falcons the win.

1994 (AFA) — Coming off a startling loss at New Mexico the week before to ruin their unbeaten season, the 12th-ranked Utes start off great against the Falcons, jumping to a quick 17-0 lead. The Falcons chip away and go ahead 34-31 late in the game and apparently clinch the game with a late touchdown run. But wait. The Utes block the extra point kick and cornerback Kareem Leary picks up the loose ball and races 80 yards to give the Utes two points. Suddenly, instead of being down by 10 points, the Utes trail by seven and still have a chance to tie. Mike McCoy and the Utes make it to midfield, but can't get any closer and lose 40-33.

1995 (SLC) — The Air Force defense dominates all day and late in the fourth quarter, the Falcons lead 21-7. A 54-yard pass set up a 17-yard TD pass from Mike Fouts to Rocky Henry with 41 seconds left. A two-point conversion makes it 21-15. Then the Utes execute a perfect onsides kick and recover at midfield. The Utes decide to go for it all on one play and Fouts finds Dyson streaking down the left sideline for a 50-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds left. Dan Pulsipher's PAT gives Utah the highly improbable victory, 22-21.

2001 (AFA) — The Utes make a gallant second-half comeback with 23 straight points to take a 37-31 lead with six minutes left in the game. However, the Falcons come back to take a 38-37 lead a couple of minutes later. The Utes are driving for the apparent game-winning field goal when confusion reigns on the Ute side. The Utes try to get an extra play in and as Lance Rice runs for an 8-yard gain, the clock runs out with the Utes at the 4-yard line. Utes lose.

2002 (SLC) — A week after nearly upsetting Michigan, Utah fritters away a 26-6 halftime lead and lose 30-26 when Chance Harridge hits Don Clark with a 20-yard pass with 17 seconds left. The Utes lose their next three and McBride is fired after the season.

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