Big plays helped Air Force finish its big turnaround in the 2014 season.
The Falcons (10-3) scored from 55 and 58 yards out while churning their way to a 38-24 win over Western Michigan (8-5) in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Saturday night. After winning only two games a year ago, Troy Calhoun’s team completed the biggest about-face in college football against a Broncos team that also took a major step forward in 2014.
Along with the 55-yard run in the first half and the 58-yard fumble return in the fourth quarter, Air Force also set up a short touchdown run by faking a punt on fourth down and throwing a rare deep ball on the next play. The Falcons finished with 361 total yards of offense and improved to 9-0 this year when rushing for at least 200 yards.
Western Michigan is still searching for its program’s first bowl victory, but it was far more competitive in Year Two under coach P.J. Fleck than with the group that won only one game last season. The Broncos’ offense stalled to start the second half. Freshman standout Jarvion Franklin, who averaged 127.1 rushing yards per game in the regular season, managed only 21 against the Air Force defense. Sophomore Corey Davis caught three long touchdown passes in the losing effort.
Game ball goes to: Sophomore fullback Shayne Davern stepped up to provide a spark on offense and special teams for Air Force in the absence of leading rusher Jacobi Owens, who missed the bowl game due to a foot injury. Davern ran for touchdowns on back-to-back carries in the first half – a 1-yarder and a 55-yard sprint through the middle of the Broncos' defense. On the following drive, he picked up 8 yards on a fake punt that led to another touchdown and served as a turning point in the game.
What it means: Calhoun tied a bow on one of the more impressive coaching jobs during his eight-year run at Air Force. The Falcons, who won 10 games for the first time since 1998, can comfortably claim to be the best football program among the military academies after falling behind Navy in recent years. Western Michigan also heads into the offseason with an optimistic outlook. Young talent such as Franklin, Davis and sophomore quarterback Zach Terrell bodes well for the future in Kalamazoo.
Best play: The nail in Western Michigan’s coffin came with just under 10 minutes remaining. Air Force junior Dexter Walker scooped up Terrell’s fumble and raced 58 yards for an easy score. The touchdown gave the Falcons a 14-point lead and took the air out of a Broncos comeback. Three plays earlier, Western Michigan returned a punt for a touchdown that would have tied the game, but it was called back for an illegal block.