Air Force falls to Houston at Armed Forces Bowl, 34-28

  • Published
  • By John Van Winkle
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
A record-setting ground game couldn't help the Air Force Academy Falcons overcome early mistakes, as the University of Houston Cougars downed the Air Force 34-28 in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 31.

The Falcons fumbled the ball on the opening kickoff, and Houston's Brandon Brinkley recovered the ball at the Air Force 25-yard line.

Four plays later, the Cougars hit end-zone paydirt on a one-yard run by running back Bryce Beall. With Jordan Mannisto's successful point-after kick, the Cougars took a 7-0 lead, less than a minute into the game.

"As you go into a game, your mistakes have to be close to zero and that initial play was something that can't happen in a bowl game for you to win," said Air Force head football coach Troy Calhoun. "You've got to perform at a different level and we've got to get to that level."

Down 7-0, Air Force responded with a six-play, 77-yard drive featuring four carries for 42 yards and a touchdown by fullback Jared Tew. Ryan Harrison's point-after attempt tied the score at 7.

Houston took back the lead on the next drive, scoring on a one-yard quarterback draw.

Then Air Force settled into its classic run-heavy offense, grinding out yards and methodically moving the ball downfield with its triple-option rushing attack, heavy on the fullback.

Houston's opportunistic defenders forced a fumble by Air Force tailback Asher Clark at the Air Force 21-yard line, where it was recovered by Houston's Phillip Hunt and advanced to the 14-yard-line. The Falcon defense kept Houston out of the end zone, and the Cougars had to settle for a field goal.

Those two fumbles yielded Houston 10 points. Both teams spent the game exchanging scores, but those two fumbles in the 1st quarter and a rare missed field goal kept Houston in the lead until game's end.

"Going into this game, I thought we'd have to play very crisp and faster than we had all season long," Coach Calhoun said. "We didn't do that today. You just have to take advantage of every single opportunity and we didn't do that."

The Falcons did set an Armed Forces Bowl record for yards rushed, grinding out 243 yards on 67 carries, lead by Tew.

The sophomore fullback carried 27 times for 149 yards and two touchdowns and was named the game's most valuable player for his efforts.

"A win would've been better," Tew said. "After the first half, the linebackers were looking at me and reading what I was doing. We'll need to expand the offense more to do better next season."

Next season is where the focus now turns for the Falcons football team. For a team picked to end near the bottom of the conference during what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, and 8-4 regular season finish and a bowl appearance, the future is promising, Coach Calhoun said.

"Losing hurts, I don't care who you play," he said. "But these are experiences our players can learn from. You can grow immensely as a player from being in a bowl game like this. "If you looked back to Spring ball and through the summer, this team has made tremendous strides, just because of their dedication."

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