For BYU, Saturday's 20-13 loss to Air Force in the WAC championship game was a case of could have, should have and would have.

"We gave it away to them. I don't care what anybody says," said senior safety Chris Ellison. "We played hard and they played hard, but we still gave it to them. We should have won that game."If this sounds like another hard-luck story out of Las Vegas, it's only because it is. Like countless others, the Cougars left town stunned.

"If we'd been manhandled today, it would be easier to swallow," said quarterback Kevin Feterik. "But we were doing the manhandling."

A glance at the statistics sheet proves it.

In addition to holding Air Force 169 yards below its second-in-the-nation rushing average of 280 yards, BYU won battles on several fronts. The Cougars ran more offensive plays (90-52), had more first downs (29-11), more total offensive yardage (390-260) and dominated the time of possession by more than 12 minutes.

Stats, however, are for losers, said Air Force safety Jason Sanderson.

"The only numbers that count in the end are the ones up on the scoreboard," he added before rejoining the Falcons' postgame celebration.

BYU coach LaVell Edwards couldn't help but agree.

"Our inability to score was the thing that killed us. It was one of those things. They made the plays when they needed to, and we kept coming away without points," said Edwards. "I can't fault anyone. It was one of those days. We moved the ball on them and did everything we needed to, except score."

BYU came away empty on four of its trips inside the AFA 20. By game's end, the Cougars' drive chart defined the outcome. The 12 possessions produced one touchdown, a 13-yard pass from Feterik to Mike Rigell; two field goals of 32 and 34 yards by Owen Pochman; three unsuccessful fourth-down tries; three punts, an interception, a missed field goal and a blocked kick.

"Air Force did a great job. They won the game," said Rigell. "But we had a couple of breakdowns and I felt we should have scored a couple of more times."

The Falcons kept the Cougars off guard with a continual blitz package. They sacked Feterik seven times, including two times late in the game when BYU was trying to regain the lead.

Air Force pulled in front for the first and final time when Blane Morgan teamed with Matt Farmer on a 59-yard touchdown pass with 3:49 remaining. Jackson Whiting added the PAT to make it 14-13. The play, a slip screen on the left side, came on a third-and-11 situation.

"We felt we dominated them defensively and were picking up enough yards on offense," said linebacker Derik Stevenson, who finished with a team-high 13 tackles -- five for loss -- and 2.5 quarterback sacks. "Then we looked up at the scoreboard and were all of a sudden losing. That kind of shocked us."

Stevenson said BYU's Liberty Bowl game with 10th-ranked Tulane (11-0) is a chance for redemption. The Cougars will likely begin preparations this weekend and depart for Memphis on Dec. 23.

"They'll be ready to play and they'll get back," said Edwards. "It's good we have another game to make this up, because this was not a good way to end a season."