Falcons slide past Broncos for Potato Bowl title

  • Published
  • By John Van Winkle
  • Air Force Academy Public Affairs
A dominant running game and strong linebacker play carried the U.S. Air Force Academy to a 38-24 victory over Western Michigan in the rain-soaked Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Dec. 20, in Boise, Idaho.

Four quarters of steady rain made for a wet and saturated field, turning the blue artificial turf into a gigantic water slide and had a considerable impact on game play. Wet footballs made ball handling tricky, accounting for four fumbles and a stifled passing game for both teams.

The Falcons fumbled on their first offensive play, resulting in a turnover.

"We ran a triple-option play the first play of the game, and you let me know how that turned out," said Falcons head coach Troy Calhoun. "After that, the triple option went out the window."

With the pitch option from the quarterback to the trailing tailback effectively drenched, the Falcons went to a double-option approach, using the fullback dive and fake option to set up a handoff to a running back or quarterback run. Both proved effective enough to generate a 5.47 yard per carry average for the Falcons in the first half, and a 4.4 YPC average by game's end.

When the Falcons were on defense, they concentrated on stopping the run, forcing the Broncos to throw the ball.

"They'd shoot two guys through a gap and blitz off the edge and that was very difficult to run against," said Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck.

The Falcons defense held the Broncos to just 79 yards rushing, despite the Broncos having a 1,500-yard running back in 220-pound freshman Jarvion Franklin. But the Falcons limited Franklin to 21 yards rushing at the bowl game.

"I think our number one objective each week is stop the run," said Falcons senior linebacker Jordan Pierce, who racked up 10 tackles, with three tackles for a loss and two sacks. From an inside linebacker standpoint, Pierce said the constant rain "wasn't too bad."

"Rain is just something you have to deal with. It's not ideal conditions, but we just have to go out there and play our game," Pierce said.

Through the air, the Broncos drew blood, with quarterback Zach Terrell airing it out for 297 yards and three touchdowns to wide receiver Corey Davis. That kept scoring close, until Air Force's linebackers made the decisive play of the game.

The Broncos were down 23-17 early in the fourth quarter, when Terrell was caught from behind on a quarterback run by Falcons outside linebacker Spencer Proctor. The senior linebacker forced the football free. Fellow linebacker Dexter Walker scooped up the slick ball and found space along the Western Michigan sideline to make a run for the end zone. Sixty yards later, Walker scored the Falcons' first defensive touchdown in two years.

Walker's touchdown put the Falcons up 29-17. Quarterback Kale Pearson found wide receiver Jalen Robinette alone in the end zone for the two-point conversion to give Air Force a 31-17 lead. The teams would exchange touchdowns in the remainder of the fourth quarter, but the Broncos couldn't overcome the scoring deficit in the time left, and the Falcons took home a 38-24 win in their latest bowl game.

Game MVP Shayne Davern accounted for 101 of Air Force's 284 ground yards and two touchdowns. His second touchdown was a 55-yard run, after he ran into the middle of the pile and three Broncos missed tackles.

The win finishes the 2014 Falcon football season at 10-3, which is the most wins in the Calhoun era, 2007 to present. This was also the final football game for 27 Falcons seniors, but greater things await them after football, Calhoun said.

"As great as it's been to follow a group of champions like this 2014 Falcon Football, just wait and see what they do five years from now on active duty," Calhoun said. "They're going to be great leaders, great officers and great representatives of our Air Force Academy."