If you watch Air Force football long enough, you'll see history repeat itself sooner or later. Even if it takes a while to dredge up the connection.
As the Falcons made like the world's most unstoppable offense last Friday night against Nevada, en route to a 48-31 victory that might've been Air Force's most impressive win in several years, this AFA football historian began thinking back to other comparable performances.
One particular game came to mind, but the details were slow to reappear from the cobwebs. It was another day at Falcon Stadium when everything went right. That time, the opponent was Hawaii.
Thanks to the trusty computer, the other pieces soon fell into place. On an October day in 1996, another Air Force team that had its ups and downs with a senior quarterback, Beau Morgan, put it all together. With 520 total yards, the Falcons breezed to a 34-7 romp.
In the second quarter of that game, Air Force calmly drove about 90 yards for a touchdown to break the game open, running its option at will from south to north on the stadium field. Afterward, talking about it, one of the AFA offensive linemen delivered a memorable quote. Unfortunately I couldn't find it in the archives, but it went something like this: "On that drive, we felt like we could have kept going all the way to Denver."
That's how the Falcons looked again last Friday, as senior quarterback Connor Dietz made all the right decisions and executed flawlessly. Fullbacks Wes Cobb and Mike DeWitt were relentless inside, halfback Jon Lee filled in admirably for injured starter Cody Getz, receivers Ty MacArthur and Dontae Strickland made big plays running and catching, Dietz turned keepers into first downs, and his passes always seemed to catch Nevada by total surprise.
It all added up to 48 points and 600 total yards, sending Nevada home filled with doubts concerning its future — just as was the case for Air Force 16 years earlier with Hawaii.
Then I noticed the actual date. That AFA-Hawaii game was Oct. 26, 1996. And of course, AFA-Nevada was Oct. 26, 2012.
Air Force would rather not relive any more history from 1996. That team went to Army later and lost, finishing 6-5 and out of the bowl picture.
These Falcons, now suddenly rejuvenated at 5-3 with a three-game win streak, still can salvage plenty from 2012. They're also tied for second (4-1) in the Mountain West Conference as they go to West Point on Saturday (10 a.m. MDT, CBS Sports), facing a hard-luck Army team that has struggled to a 1-7 record so far.
With a win there, Air Force could begin thinking about a bowl game — which seemed unlikely after losing at home to Navy and falling to 2-3. There's a home game Nov. 16 (another Friday night) against none other than Hawaii, which is struggling, sandwiched by road trips to San Diego State on Nov. 10 and Fresno State on Nov. 24.
But the Falcons should finish at least 7-5, and that might put them in either the Armed Forces Bowl at Fort Worth on Dec. 29, or perhaps the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24 at Honolulu, either of which would be against a Conference USA team (East Carolina, SMU or Houston are possible opponents).
Something else: Invariably, when Air Force puts together a season such as this, rebounding in October instead of fading, the common thread has been seniors determined to go out on a positive note. So it is now, with Dietz, Cobb, DeWitt, Getz and Strickland all seniors, along with two offensive linemen and five defensive starters.
Behind all of them are solid groups of juniors, sophomores and freshmen, so the future still looks promising. But after that disappointing 7-6 record a year ago, when Air Force fell considerably short of expectations, this looked to be a rebuilding year. Many usual optimists were bracing for 5-7 or 4-8.
Instead, here they are, entering November with a chance to play in a bowl for an unprecedented sixth consecutive year. And this also could turn into one of the best coaching jobs by Troy Calhoun and his staff since they took over in 2007 — if not the best.