Air Force into bowl after ground game pounds Hawaii

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- On a night when the Air Force Falcons didn't pass, they received an offer they couldn't pass up.

Immediately after their 21-7 win over Hawaii on Friday night, the Falcons received an invitation to the Armed Forces Bowl.

They quickly accepted.

And so the Falcons (6-5, 5-2 Mountain West) will head to a postseason game for the sixth straight season under coach Troy Calhoun. They don't know whom they will play -- don't much care, really -- but were elated at the thought of extending their season.

"It's a pretty sweet way to go out," said quarterback Connor Dietz, who was one of 23 seniors playing in their final game at Falcon Stadium.

Dietz certainly didn't have to worry about icing his right arm after this one. For just the fifth time in school history, the Falcons didn't attempt a pass.

Instead, they relied on a ground game that's ranked second in the country. Wes Cobb scored twice on short runs and Cody Getz rushed for 125 yards as the Falcons snapped a two-game skid.

"It was a gutty, gritty win," Calhoun said. "An absolute gut-check of a win."

Jeremy Higgins made his first start for Hawaii and directed a scoring drive to open the game. But the Warriors (1-9, 0-7) struggled after that as they lost for an eighth straight time, the second-longest skid in school history. Hawaii's record is 19 straight losses from 1997 to '99.

"We weren't able to move the ball very well. We weren't able to run the ball as well as we thought we were going to," Higgins said. "We weren't good on third downs in the second half, and it was just a lot of mental errors on my part."

Getz had another big night, eclipsing the 100-yard mark for the sixth time this season. The diminutive back had a 5-yard TD run early in the third quarter to break a 7-all tie.

"That was a great run. Holy cow," Calhoun said. "Probably the best one he's ever had."

Getz looked more like his explosive self again, showing no lingering signs of an ankle injury that's hampered him the past few weeks.

"It feels good seeing those big holes open up again," Getz said. "But it feels better to get a win, most of all."

The Falcons stayed on the field after the game to accept the bid. The Armed Forces Bowl will be played Dec. 29 in Fort Worth, Texas, against a team from Conference USA.

"It feels amazing to know for sure where you're going," Cobb said.

Cobb added a pair of 2-yard TD bursts to help the Falcons win back the Kuter Trophy, a memento the team didn't really know existed since the two schools hadn't played since 2001.

Granted, it's not as prestigious as the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy that goes to the academy with the best record in the annual round-robin competition. But since the Falcons are out of that race after losses to Army and Navy, this one will have to suffice.

The tradition of awarding the Kuter Trophy to the Hawaii-Air Force winner began in 1980, when both teams were members of the Western Athletic Conference. The hardware was named after the late Gen. Laurence S. Kuter, who was the first head of the Pacific Air Forces Command. It was a symbol of the cooperation between the people of Hawaii and the Air Force.

The Falcons had the trophy in their possession, even though the Warriors should have been the rightful holders since they beat Air Force 52-30 in 2001. The academy dusted it off over the summer and shipped it back to Hawaii.

Now, the Falcons can legitimately place the keepsake in their trophy case.

Getz gave Air Force the lead for good early in the third quarter when he bounced off a Hawaii defender and dove into the end zone. He also had the big play on the drive, when he scampered 54 yards to set up the score.

Hawaii was in prime position to tie the game after Charles Clay recovered a muffed punt deep in Air Force territory. Three plays later, though, Hawaii running back Joey Iosefa turned it right back over to the Falcons.

Cobb plowed in from 2 yards out to tie the game at 7 early in the second quarter. The score would remain tied at halftime, as Tyler Hadden's 60-yard field goal attempt wound up well short as time expired.

The Warriors scored on their opening drive for the first time this season. Higgins avoided a blitz by rolling out to his left, then lofted a perfect strike to tight end Clark Evans for a 26-yard touchdown.

Higgins stepped in for Sean Schroeder, who's struggled to ignite the offense. Higgins finished 14-of-23 for 125 yards against Air Force before being relieved by Schroeder.

"That's a good football team," Hawaii coach Norm Chow said. "They have such a nice system for themselves. I'm sure they knew exactly what they were doing."

And they didn't even need to attempt a pass. However, it's not a recipe Calhoun wants to repeat all that often.

"That's not the way to do it," said Calhoun, whose offense didn't put the ball in the air for the first time since 1992 at Wyoming. "It's just not.

"It's been one challenging year, to say the least. And yet it's neat to see these guys be rewarded and play in another bowl game. We're not a splendid group or a beautiful group. But we have the makeup internally that you absolutely want in guys."