Fresno State enters Saturday’s game with an opportunity to win a conference championship for the first time since 1999. With a first-year coaching staff this season, Phillip Thomas along with Terrance Dennis remain as the longest tenured members of the team as part of the 2007 recruiting class that featured Ryan Mathews. Thomas hopes to take advantage of an opportunity that his previous teammates never got.
“I feel we need to win this for everybody that’s been here before,” said Thomas. “We need to win this for ourselves, the fans, and the community… I feel like there’s nothing that can stop us. I feel like this weekend we’re going to come out here and execute our game plan and get the win, and be Mountain West Champions in our first year in the conference.”
With a Mountain West Championship on the line Saturday, Thomas and the Bulldog seniors will also have to take in their last home game on senior night. Thomas expects an emotional last walk down the ramp onto Jim Sweeney Field.
“Just reminisce on all the memories I had coming down that ramp,” Thomas explained. “All the plays I’ve played here… It’s just going to be real emotional for me to hold back the tears and see my fans off the last time I play in Bulldog Stadium. We will get the job done this Saturday and be Mountain West Champions and that will be a good way to end my last game in Bulldog Stadium.”
The star safety was also named as a Thorpe Award finalist this week. He’ll have one last game to build on his statistics highlighted by a nation leading eight interceptions. Thomas is focused strictly on the team’s goal of a conference championship however.
“First thing is to win this Mountain West Conference. It’s going to be a big game, senior night. It’s just going to be really emotional, last game in Bulldog stadium. I feel like we should have a packed house; everybody to see us off with a victory.”
Thomas will likely have a limited amount of opportunities to add to his interception total on Saturday. Air Force did not throw a single pass their win last week over Hawaii. Thomas believes the Bulldogs defense will be able to make the Falcons put the ball in the air however.
“All year long it’s been everybody doing their job,” said Thomas. “The line getting pressure on the quarterback and making them throw errant passes… I feel like our defense will do a good job against them this week and force them into throwing the ball. You won’t see a game like they played against Hawaii last week where they didn’t really need to throw the ball. [We] will have our opportunities to get picks.”
Fresno State’s defense will use their game against New Mexico as a point of reference for defending the Falcon’s option offense. The Bulldog defense gave up 349 rushing yards to the Lobos. Air Force will present a greater challenge for Fresno State on Saturday.
“It helps us with our discipline,” said Thomas. “New Mexico was a real triple option type team. That really got us prepared for what we need to do with our assignments and how perfect we need to be. I feel like Air Force is a little bit more disciplined and they’ve been running the offense for a lot longer so they’ll be better at it than New Mexico was.”
“They just do a lot of things that misdirect you. They’re really disciplined. They play really hard all the time. It just comes down to us doing our assignments… Trust each other on the field. It just comes down to being assignment perfect.”
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