AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – Mikel Hunter scored twice and Air Force's defense caused three turnovers, helping the Falcons snap a six-game slide against BYU with a 35-14 win Saturday in the final conference meeting between the rivals.
The Cougars are leaving the Mountain West after this season to become an independent and no future dates with Air Force have been set.
This showdown had been quite one-sided of late, with the Cougars winning by an average of 19 points since 2004. But the Falcons (2-0, 1-0 MWC) turned the tables, taking the lead just before halftime and outscoring BYU 14-0 in the second half.
Air Force entered the game with the nation's top rushing offense and had the option offense cranked up against the Cougars (1-1, 0-1), rushing for 409 yards.
Asher Clark led the way with 121 yards and Jon Warzeka added 62, including a career-long 46-yard TD run late in the third quarter. Nathan Walker secured the win with a 5-yard TD run early in the fourth period.
Hunter had a big day for the Falcons, catching a 37-yard TD pass from Tim Jefferson and scoring on a 33-yard reverse. He touched the ball only three times, but accounted for 90 yards.
Air Force standout cornerback Reggie Rembert returned to the field a week after being carted off with a neck injury. Rembert thwarted one BYU drive by picking off a pass in the second quarter.
The defense also forced two fumbles, including one when tailback JJ Di Luigi was stripped from behind near the goal line after a 43-yard run. The football rolled into the end zone, where Falcons linebacker Patrick Hennessey pounced on it for a touchback.
Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall stayed true to his word, alternating quarterbacks Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps in the first half. But that changed after halftime as Mendenhall relied on Nelson with the game close.
Nelson finished with 73 yards passing and had another 95 yards rushing, including a 4-yard scoring run. But he also had a costly fumble, leading to Hunter's TD run just before halftime that gave the Falcons a 21-14 lead.
Heaps, the highly heralded freshman, threw for just 15 yards and was intercepted by Rembert.
Di Luigi finished with 103 yards and one touchdown for the Cougars in Mendenhall's first loss to the Falcons after winning five straight since taking over the program.
It was a sloppy win for the Falcons, who were plagued by penalties. They were flagged 10 times for 125 yards and had numerous personal-foul infractions.
Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson watched the game between these two longtime adversaries from the press box. Although it could be challenging for Air Force and BYU to work out future games — the Falcons already play Navy and Army in nonconference games — Thompson wouldn't mind seeing it happen.
So might a sellout crowd, Air Force's first at Falcon Stadium since 2006.
"This is a very good rivalry," Thompson said. "If they are able to continue the series, it'll be fun."
(This version CORRECTS Air Force 35, BYU 14. Corrects to BYU in headline.)