Air Force picks off bowl victory over Houston
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) – Asher Clark and Jared Tew each ran for more than 100 yards with two touchdowns and Air Force’s top-ranked pass defense had six interceptions against Case Keenum, leading the Falcons to a 47-20 victory over Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl on Thursday.
Air Force’s plan to limit Keenum and the nation’s most explosive offense worked almost flawlessly. The Falcons (8-5) ran for 402 yards to go with Tim Jefferson’s effective passing (10 of 14 for 161 yards), holding the ball for 41 minutes and then coming up with the big defensive plays.
Anthony Wright had three interceptions, and Chris Thomas had two picks to go with his 12 tackles.
Keenum, who leads the nation in yards passing, was 24 of 41 with a season-low 222 yards and a touchdown for the Cougras (10-4). The six picks were a career high. In his other 13 games this season, he had only nine interceptions while throwing for 5,449 yards and 43 touchdowns.
After Air Force went ahead on Clark’s 36-yard TD to cap the opening drive of the game, Keenum’s first pass attempt deflected off his falling receiver and was intercepted by Wright. That set up Tew’s 6-yard TD run for a 14-0 lead.
Tew finished with 26 carries for 173 yards, He had a 71-yard TD with 3:32 left in the game after Keenum tossed his fifth interception.
Clark had 17 carries for 129 yards for the Falcons, who had lost in the Armed Forces Bowl the past two seasons, including 34-28 to Houston a year ago. Air Force had lost three postseason games since winning in the 2000 Silicon Valley Bowl.
The Cougars, who got a return trip to Fort Worth after losing to East Carolina in the C-USA championship game when Keenum threw five TDs and three interceptions, missed their first 11-win season since 1979.
Houston’s bowl win last year capped coach Kevin Sumlin’s debut season and snapped an eight-game postseason losing streak that had spanned 28 years.
After Houston was held without a touchdown before halftime, Tyron Carrier returned the opening kickoff of the second half 79 yards for his fourth TD this season. He took the ball near the left sideline, then ran to the middle of the field before shooting through a gap and running untouched to get the Cougars within 24-13.
Air Force immediately responded with its first kickoff return for a touchdown since 1985. Jonathan Warzeka fielded the ball and stepped back into the end zone before running 100 yards. Five Houston players got their hands on him, but couldn’t get him down.
According to STATS LLC, which has such data only since 1996, it was only the sixth game in that span involving FBS teams when there were kickoff returns for touchdowns on consecutive plays. None of them had been in a bowl game.
After the kickoff returns, Keenum threw a 10-yard TD to Patrick Edwards to make it 31-20, but that was all the Cougars got.
That gave Keenum a TD pass in 30 consecutive games , but this was the first time in that streak that he had more picks than scores.
The junior quarterback who played his 40th career game has already said he plans to be back next season, when the Cougars return nine of 11 offensive starters, including three 1,000-yard receivers.
The Cougars entered the Fort Worth Bowl leading the nation in total yards (581) while averaging 44 points. They managed only 331 total yards against the Falcons.
Air Force had allowed only 149 yards passing a game this season, even after giving up 377 in its regular-season finale at BYU.
Clark’s 22-yard TD midway through the second quarter, when he took a pitch to the right and ran untouched to the end zone, made it 21-3. The only pass on that 11-play drive was a 13-yard completion by Jefferson, who by then was 5 of 5 for 71 yards, 10 more than Keenum.
When Jefferson slipped down trying to run on third-and-goal from the 2 with 17 seconds and no timeouts left just before halftime, he quickly got the offense off the field and the kicking team got out in time for Erik Soderberg’s 27-yard field goal that made it 24-6.