The Arizona Wildcats goal of returning to the Quarterfinals was made reality Saturday afternoon after an impressive 51-7 defeat of Air Force in the opening round of the D1A Playoffs.
It proved to be a much different battle on the pitch compared to the teams’ bout in Las Vegas last month. As the road team in round two, however, head coach Sean Duffy had plenty to compliment his team on from improvements this month leading up to the postseason.
“We have great respect for Air Force and their ability to claw back into games, so we knew no lead was safe and that kept us on our toes,” Duffy said. “I think it all comes down to preparation. We have improved on a number of items since our last match up with them, and I think guys are playing off each other a bit better than earlier in the year. That familiarity is important, and it’s growing. We left a lot of points on the board through our mistakes, so we hope to fix that this week.“
Arizona took the lead early and never looked back with a try by junior wing Dante Weeks in the opening minute of play. Kyle Rogers followed up for the Wildcats in the 13th minute, and the successful conversion by Luke Thayer made it a 12-0 affair. Arizona would touch down once more before Air Force was able to respond with their lone score and conversion of the day in the 32nd minute.
Up 24-7 at halftime, the Wildcats continued to dominate the Zoomies in nearly every aspect. Winger Ben Joseph, who scored the game-tying try versus Air Force in March, registered two tries for Arizona in the second half before subbing off in the 63rd minute. By then the game was well in hand for the visitors, now 39-7. Two more scores and a conversion capped off the Wildcats’ day, who now head back to the D1A quarterfinals.
Duffy noted the performance of Joseph specifically in the second half, as well as Rogers, who continues to display why he is one of the best playmakers in the nation according to his coach.
Tackling was a constant plague for the Zoomies throughout the contest. In contrast, Arizona took full advantage of miscues and loose balls. They also took advantage of disrupting Air Force’s backline constantly, and found additional energy off the bench.
“Forwards can’t be left out here as they were fantastic, setting a platform for the backs to be the beneficiaries a number of times,” Duffy added. “Our bench, I feel, was a huge factor. Guys like Shane Dempsey, Ben Scoular, and Cody Hunt brought tangible energy to the team and helped us put together some great things in the second half.”
With the West Conference champions in the dust, Arizona’s next test will be at Baylor, the Red River Conference Champions. The Bears are coming off a bye thanks in part to winning the conference championship over LSU.