AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Cleared to play just hours before the game, Tim Jefferson made sure Air Force's drive for a bowl bid didn't end in his final performance at Falcon Stadium.
Jefferson looked sharp in his return from a concussion as Air Force beat UNLV 45-17 on Saturday night to give the Falcons a shot at a fifth straight postseason appearance.
All the Falcons (6-5, 2-4 Mountain West) have to do is beat Colorado State on the road next week to become bowl eligible.
"We're looking at this like March Madness -- if you lose, you're done," Jefferson said. "We're just thankful we were able to win."
After suffering a head injury last weekend in a loss to Wyoming, Jefferson was a game-time decision on whether he would even suit up. He got the green light and went to work in leading the Falcons past UNLV (2-8, 1-4) for a fifth straight time.
Jefferson did most of his damage with his legs, rushing for 81 yards and a score. He also threw for 128 yards and another TD.
"It was great we were able to finish off on a high note like we did today," Jefferson said. "To be able to come out here on senior night and put up a performance like we did, that means the world."
He had plenty of help from his senior compatriots as Asher Clark rushed for a career-high 169 yards, defensive back Anthony Wright Jr. picked off his 12th career pass and receiver Zack Kauth hauled in a career-high five passes.
"Our seniors made some really significant contributions tonight," said Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, whose team isn't quite bowl eligible because two of its wins came against FCS teams.
Despite the skid away from Las Vegas, Rebels coach Bobby Hauck doesn't believe it has become a mental hurdle.
"I think we're not good enough to win and need to get better," Hauck said. "We've got to do things to get better."
Clark had a sensational farewell showing at home. He ripped off a career-long 67-yard TD run in the second quarter, a scamper that vaulted him into second place on the school's all-time rushing list. Clark now has 3,469 yards, putting him 144 away from breaking the mark held by Dee Dowis (1986-89).
Not that he's thinking about it just now.
"I guess it's going to mean a lot to me looking back later in my life, to know that I left a mark on the Academy record books," Clark said. "But it's all about getting this win against CSU and hopefully get that 13th game (with a bowl appearance). If I can get it done in that time, great. But if I end up with 142 rushing yards in the next two games but we get wins, I'll be happy with that as well."
With Jefferson under center, the Falcons were clicking on offense as they scored on six of eight drives before he was taken out to start the fourth quarter. The production could've been even greater, but kicker Parker Herrington, who's been so steady all season, missed field goals of 34 and 42 yards in the first half. Herrington had connected on 10 straight coming into the game.
Jefferson showed no ill effects from the first-quarter blow he took last Saturday against Wyoming, a hit that forced him to watch from the sideline as the Falcons fell, 25-17, and left their bowl aspirations in jeopardy.
He had a feeling he would return, especially since he didn't have any lingering side effects.
This was the 27th win of Jefferson's career. He's now alone in third place in the Mountain West, trailing only former conference standouts Andy Dalton (42) and Max Hall (32).
Wesley Cobb made the most of his eight carries, scoring on runs up the middle of 2 and 7 yards.
Dionza Bradford, UNLV's leading rusher, was held in check all evening. He finished with 20 yards. Quarterback Caleb Herring helped keep the Rebels close early with a 1-yard score in the second quarter to make it 14-10. But Clark's long run started a string of 31 straight points to turn the game into a rout.
"That was a big swing in the game," Hauck said. "You're in it and fighting to get it done and then get behind. They did a nice job of controlling the game with their offense."
Air Force had 28 seniors playing their final home game, many of them part of Calhoun's first recruiting class. This was quite an accomplished class at the Academy, going 31-19 and winning back-to-back Commander-in-Chief's Trophies.
"It's been a heck of a ride," linebacker Jordan Waiwaiole. "We're looking forward to finishing out strong."
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