AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – Maybe it was the FCS opponent. Maybe the Air Force Falcons got caught looking ahead to BYU next week.
Or maybe they were stunned by the sight of one of their leaders being carted off the field with a neck injury in the first quarter.
Whatever the reason, it took a few strong words at halftime to get their heads back in the game.
Once that happened, the Falcons found their footing and scored 41 unanswered points in the second half to pull away from pesky Northwestern State 65-21 on Saturday.
"I think we looked at the name of the team we were playing and said, 'It's going to be a cakewalk,'" said quarterback Tim Jefferson, who threw two TD passes and ran for two more. "When you do that, you don't have the mental maturity and that's what happens."
The game was marred by three players being carted off on stretchers with neck injuries. Anxious teammates paced nearby.
Northwestern State safety Lance Lacoste hurt his neck covering a punt in the third quarter, while Demons offensive guard Josh Cunningham and Air Force cornerback Reggie Rembert were taken off in the opening quarter.
The Demons said Lacoste felt a severe pain in his neck and that Cunningham had a possible stinger, along with a concussion. Both were taken to a hospital as a precaution. It was unclear how Cunningham was injured.
Both, though, are heading home with the team.
Rembert had feeling in all extremities after hurting his neck on a tackle.
His presence was missed.
"When it happened, the whole team, their hearts went down in their stomachs," fullback Jared Tew said. "To see him down there that long and also the stretcher come out, it got us a little nervous."
The Demons know the feeling.
"There were a bunch of them tonight, and hopefully they're going to be very short-lived and these kids are going to be healthy again real soon," said coach Bradley Dale Peveto, who's still searching for his first win after going 0-11 last season in his inaugural year.
For a half, the Demons threw a scare at the Falcons. For a half, they believed they could actually spring an upset.
Maybe that had something to do with quarterback Paul Harris' impassioned speech Monday after practice. He told his teammates he was sick of walking across campus and being asked when they were finally going to win.
The next day, there was a spike in players showing up for voluntary film review.
On Saturday, they trailed 24-21 heading into halftime. But then it unraveled.
Still, the Demons departed feeling they're on the right path.
"We had many positives," said Harris, who threw for a touchdown and ran in another. "I know I'm 0-12 as a college player, but that doesn't hurt my confidence at all."
Although Harris picked apart the Falcons defense in the first half, it changed after halftime as Air Force made the necessary adjustments, allowing allowed just 54 yards of offense the rest of the way.
"We played like the turf was hot and we wanted to get our feet moving," said Calhoun, whose team compiled 616 yards of offense, the 11th most in team history.
So, what exactly did Falcons coach Troy Calhoun do to his team at halftime?
"We had Lasik (surgery)," Calhoun joked, referring to his team's better focus. "Just sight-wise."
This game was supposed to be the breather for Air Force. The Falcons play a four-game stretch against teams that all played in bowls last season, starting next weekend with BYU.
While Jefferson thought the team may have overlooked Northwestern State, senior defensive lineman Rick Ricketts doesn't see it that way.
But he conceded the Falcons have a lot of work left to do before conference power BYU arrives in town.
"Last year, we had some trouble with their passing game, and if we had trouble with Northwestern State's passing game, that's a big eye-opener," Ricketts said. "We've got to pick it up for BYU."
Calhoun didn't know if Rembert would be available.
"We've got to see," Calhoun said. "You don't mess with something like that. All three of those kids, anytime you get a guy at all, even if it's a little bit of a twinge, if it means everyone stands out there 15 more minutes, my goodness, it's what we're going to do."