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The West Conference in D1-A is becoming the Wild West as the games become increasingly dramatic, high-scoring, and surprising.
This week, Air Force and Colorado clashed in a 99-point extravaganza that saw wild point swings and an exciting finish.
In the end, Air Force came back from a 41-29 deficit to beat Colorado 55-44 and improve to 2-1 in the D1-A West.
Colorado has an exciting combination of speed and power, and did well to use it early. Brendan and Stuart Cox each scored a try to give the Buffaloes a 12-3 lead., and soon it was 17-3. But Air Force stormed back with tries from the lock pair of John Nickerson and Jack Bristol to make it 17-17. And that’s how the game continued. Colorado could pull ahead, Air Force would drag them back.
Finally, the Buffs, down 24-22, scored three tries in the space of ten minutes to lead 41-29. There was about 20 minutes to go, but surely Colorado could hold on, right?
“The guys are very fit,” said Air Force Head Coach Joe Muehlbauer. “We’ve been working very hard on our fitness, and put a lot of contact into the fitness work. I knew our guys would finish well, especially the forwards. That’s where I think we had the advantage.”
Led by a superb effort from tighthead prop and player of the game Kebin Umodu, Air Force did not buckle.
Tries from Sam Roller, and Taylor Roberts put Air Force up by two, but not for long as Colorado’s JC Trublet hit a penalty to put CU up 44-43 with seven to go.
But the Zoomies kept coming. Nicholas Lundin touched down just as the game was ending, and then Umodu put the exclamation point on it with another try, cruelly denying CU a bonus point for a close loss.
“Kebin is new to rugby but he’s been terrific,” said Muehlbauer. “He’s a big, chiseled guy. Great student. And he get around the field. I know this was an exciting match to watch, but it was a bit nerve-wracking to coach. I’d like us not to give up so many points, but it became clear this would be a wild game. Even down as we were, our guys have a lot of confidence, and they never gave up on the plan.”
In the backs, Air Force center Richard Ollis was critical. He led the offensive effort, making the gain line almost every time he touched the ball.
“He’s very easy to support in the back row because he’s always going forward,” said Muehlbauer.
Things are looking up for Air Force. They have shown now they can score on virtually anyone – scoring 20 against BYU should not be overlooked. They average just under 40 points a game, and are now poised to challenge for a quarterfinal playoff position.
“We knew that if we wanted to be in the top two we had to beat either BYU or Utah,” said Muehlbauer. “We didn’t beat BYU, so now we look to Utah.”
Utah will have their hands full with Air Force’s high octane attack. The Utes face the Zoomies on April 14, a day after playing the equally score-happy Colorado Buffaloes. That weekend could be Utah’s undoing. Certainly they now know that Air Force does not stop flying until the game is done.
Tries: B. Cox 3, S. Cox 2, Quattrini, Martin
Convs: Trublet 3
Air Force Academy 55
Tries: Nickerson, Bristol, Ollis, Edwards, Roller, Roberts, Lundin, Umodu
Convs: Fleming 6
Additional reporting by Mark vander Molen