Kankolongo Suspended One Game For Hit In Air Force Game

USA TODAY Sports

Controversial hit causes junior linebacker to miss upcoming game against Texas State.

One of the key turning points in Saturday's win over Air Force was a forced fumble on a kickoff that was recovered by Wyoming.  The fumble was caused by a earth shattering hit by junior linebacker Nehemie Kankolongo.  On the play Kankolongo first hit a blocker and then collided with ballcarrier Anthony Lacoste who dropped the ball.

Lacoste was down for several minutes after the play but later was able to walk off the field on his own power.  The only flag thrown on the play was for a Wyoming player who came on the field after the play to celebrate and wasn't wearing his helmet.  I remember that play distinctly and I was standing in a section nearly directly behind LaCoste.  I didn't even know that a fumble occurred because I was in awe of what a powerful hit that was dished out.

Fans watching on ESPNU were forced to spend the next 5 minutes as Dan Hawkins went on a tirade about targeting.  He became hysterical and this meltdown was not lost on those who where tuning in.

On Sunday the Mountain West reviews plays and can reduce, extend or create penalties based on plays or events that occurred during or after the game.

On Monday the Mountain West announced they were suspending Kankolongo for one game for "targeting" during that game.  It has been a controversial penalty this year as the punishment has great increased.  It was already a 15 yard penalty but now the player is also ejected for the rest of the game.  If the penalty occurs in the second half then they must also miss the first half of the next game.

Here is the definition of targeting as it currently written in the NCAA rulebook.

Initiating Contact/Targeting an Oppenent
1. No player shall initiate contact and target an opponent with the crown (top) of his helmet. When in question, it is a foul.

2. No player shall initiate contact and target a defenseless opponent above the shoulders. When in question, it is a foul.

The Mountain West believes that Kankolongo used the crown of his helmet to initiate the contact.  Lots of Wyoming fans are not happy with the penalty.  There is only one video of the play available and it happens very quickly.  Start watching at the 3:37 mark to see the play in full speed.


Coach Christensen was not happy with the penalty leveled against his player.

"After watching the play I was surprised, but they didn’t call and ask my opinion," Christensen said. "If you are able to sit down and evaluate the video and you make the right call, it helps. If you still make the wrong call, I don’t think it is very good. I do think the intent of the rule is good.

The real downside in my opinion is that Kankolongo must miss a game after making the biggest play of his career.  The former running back has battled injuries and other off the field issues during his first three years in Laramie.  He has done well in his transition to linebacker and he recorded his first tackle and forced fumble on this play.  Instead of building on that progress he'll be forced to stay home while his teammates travel to Texas.

Protecting players is very important and it is good to see the NCAA trying to step up player safety.  The hit was very powerful but was not deliberately done.

At least the Pokes are 10.5 point favorites this weekend and Kankolongo will be eligible to play when the Cowboys host New Mexico on October 5th.  Things just never seem to be easy for Wyoming when dealing with Air Force.  I found it interesting that Air Force kept so many Wyoming highlights in this video they produced.

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