Falcons topple Hawai'i, 21-7

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Brandon Baccam
  • Air Force Academy Public Affairs
Ground and pound: that was the entire offense for Air Force as the Falcons, in their last home game of the season Nov. 16, emerged victorious over the Hawai'i Warriors, 21-7 and earned a bid to play in the 2012 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl.

The Falcons, who entered their Senior Night game with a 5-5 overall record, desperately needed a win to have a shot at a postseason bowl appearance.

The Falcons played conservative, running the ball for the entire game without a single pass attempt. Air Force was the 3rd top rushing team in the nation heading into week 12 with 3,353 total yards on the season - they would stick to this strength with 68-straight rushing attempts, gaining 338 yards and three scores. This was the first time the school did not attempt a pass since 1992 vs. Wyoming (42-28 win), and the fifth time in school history.

"They were playing awfully big when it came to running the football," said Hawai'i head coach Norm Chow.

Air Force won the coin toss and elected to receive to start the game. Running back Cody Getz fumbled on their sixth play, only to have it recovered by fellow teammate Alex Ludowig. On fourth and 18, the Falcons punted.

Jeremy Higgins made his first start at quarterback for Hawai'i. On their first possession, the sophomore led the Warriors down the field, converting on two third downs and completing a 26-yard pass to tight end Clark Evans for the first score of the game. Higgins was 3-of-5 for 45 yards on the drive, and led the Warriors to their first scoring opening drive of the season. The Warriors started with a 7-0 lead after kicking the extra point.

Air Force picked up momentum on their third possession when Ty MacArthur returned a punt for 33 yards to their own 40. They stuck to the ground on this long series, converting all four of their third down attempts and scoring on a handoff to Running back Wes Cobb for a 2-yard touchdown. After the extra point, the score was tied 7-7.

Staunch defensive efforts by both teams kept the offenses on their toes. On their next possession, Higgins was sacked by Jose Champaign and Brian Lindsay for a loss of 11, and the Warriors punted.

After six plays and 21 yards, the Falcons attempted a fourth down conversion with only one yard to go on the Warriors' 49-yard line but were stuffed by Warriors Art Laurel and Siasau Matagiese, turning the ball over. Defensive exchanges like this occurred throughout the entire game.

"We had to adjust on the fly a little bit, they showed us some things that we weren't prepared for," said Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun.

On the last possession of the half, Hawai'i kicker Tyler Hadden attempted a 60-yard field goal, but the attempt fell short, and the half ended with a score of 7-7.

Getz had his first breakout run in the third quarter when he burst through the middle for 54 yards, getting to the Warriors' 19 yard line. The Falcons stayed with the run for five more plays. On third and goal, Getz fought his way into the end zone, breaking the tackle by John Hardy-Tuliauand and diving for the second touchdown of the game.

Turnovers proved to be a huge factor in the game, as there were six total fumbles: three by Air Force, and three by Hawai'i.

Down 14-7, the Warriors attempted to quickly move down the field but failed to convert after three downs. However, they received a second opportunity when they recovered a botched punt return by Air Force. As Hawai'i squib-kicked the punt, MacArthur attempted to scoop up the bounce, but fumbled it and was surrounded by Warriors. Three plays later, The Falcons got the ball back after Warrior running back Joey Iosefa fumbled the ball on a screen pass, forced by linebacker Stephan Atrice.

The Falcons would not capitalize on the turnover however, as they gained only 11 yards on five plays and were forced to punt.

After yet another three and out from the Warriors, the Falcons regained possession and continued to pound the ball. On 3rd and 2 at their own 28, Jon Lee broke a run for 52 yards, reaching the Hawai'i 20. Air Force eventually found the end zone as Cobb ran it in from two yards out. Air Force led at the end of the third quarter 21-7. By the start of the fourth quarter, the Falcons had run the ball 51 times for 282 yards with three scores and not a single pass attempt.

The Warriors could not organize a comeback. After scoring on their very first possession, the Warriors had punted six times, missed a field goal attempt, and lost a fumble in the red zone.

"That fumble really cost us, it really turned the game around," Chow said. "Otherwise, it would be 14-14 and we'd have been in a battle."

The Falcons had turnover problems of their own, gaining 13 more yards on their eighth possession of the game before Getz fumbled at midfield, giving the ball back to Hawai'i. The Warriors went for it on fourth and 2 but were unable to convert, and the Falcons regained the ball on their own 35.

Both teams exchanged possessions back and forth until late in the fourth quarter, when Scott Harding returned the punt for 31 yards, putting the Warriors on the Air Forces 42-yard line. With only 3:47 left in the game, the Warriors needed to do something quickly if they had any hope of making a comeback.

Sean Schroeder was put into the game as quarterback for the Warriors, but was immediately sacked by defensive lineman Alex Hansen for a loss of 9. After three more plays, the Warriors made their final attempt on 4th and 12. Schroeder ran up the middle, but was stopped just one yard short of the first down by defensive back Dexter Walker, effectively securing the win for the Falcons.

"It was an absolute gut check of a win," Calhoun said. "It was a gutty, gritty win and you absolutely have to commend Hawaii. They came over here and played physical and established the tempo and how they were going to play early on."

The Air Force is now 6-5 overall and 5-2 in the Mountain West Conference. Having been given the first invitation to the 2012 Armed Forces Bowl, the Falcons will look to face a Conference-USA team. Their last regular-season game is Nov. 24 at Fresno State, which is 6-1 in the conference and 8-3 overall.