Hot Falcons beat cold Bears in frigid Armed Forces Bowl

Bundled-up fans stand during the national anthem before the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Quarterback Haaziq Daniels had a short scoring run and threw a touchdown pass in the Air Force Falcons’ 30-15 victory over Baylor’s Bears in brutally cold conditions Thursday night in the 20th annual Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.

The game kicked off with a temperature of 13 degrees and a wind chill of minus 4 at Fort Worth’s Amon G. Carter Stadium, the home field of Baylor’s Big 12 rival TCU. Baylor officials said it was the coldest kickoff temperature in the history of the program. Baylor plays its home games in Waco, about 90 miles south of Fort Worth.

It was even uncomfortable for the Falcons, where the temperature back home in Colorado Springs at kickoff time was below zero.

“Cold might be putting it mildly,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “I don’t think I’ve experienced anything like that. When it’s not warm, it’s not easy. It never is at the United States Air Force Academy. But these guys, just the heart, the guts and the right, extraordinary young people. I’m glad they’re fighting for our country.”

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Daniels had a 2-yard touchdown run and a 15-yard scored pass out of Air Force’s run-oriented triple-option offense.

Brad Roberts rushed for two touchdowns and Matthew Dapore had a 37-yard field goal for the Falcons, who finished their season with a 10-3 record.

Blake Shapen threw touchdown passes of 8 yards to Hal Presley in the second quarter and 14 yards to Gavin Holmes in the closing minutes for Baylor (6-7).

Air Force came into the game as an unlikely passing threat with an FBS-worst average of 67.8 passing yards and 6.7 passes per game. But Daniels got hot through the freezing air, completing 4 of 7 passes for 103 yards and throwing his fourth touchdown pass of the season to Caleb Rillos (his first touchdown catch in two seasons). Daniels set up his touchdown run with a 68-yard first-down bullet pass thrown deep down the left sideline to Amari Terry.

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“I went with the wind,” Daniels said about the pass to Terry. “I didn’t want it to hang too much.”

“(No.) 4’s a good player,” Baylor linebacker Dillon Doyle said about Daniels. “He’s athletic, he can make all the plays and all the runs.”

Air Force, best in the FBS on the ground with a per-game average of 330.9 rushing yards during the season, ran 67 times for 276 yards. Roberts, held to 25 first-half yards on 11 carries, finished with 116 yards on 37 carries for his school-record 20th game of triple-digit rushing yards.

Baylor averaged 429.2 total yards during the season but came up ice cold offensively Thursday night with a season-low 230 yards against a defense that allowed a nation-leading 256.4 yards per game.

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The Bears’ leading rusher was “Sqwirl” Williams with 25 yards, and Baylor went 0 for 11 on third down.

“You have to give big credit to the (defensive) play calling,” Falcons defensive back Jayden Goodwin said.

“From a team perspective it is a disappointing end to a disappointing season,” Baylor coach Dave Aranda said. “In previous games, there was more juice and excitement. I was way disappointed in the lack of that.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Falcons –This senior class of the Air Force Academy had double-digit wins in every full season: 11-2 in 2019, 10-3 last season and this season. “It may be an anomaly to be candid,” Calhoun said. “We realize we’re in a place where if you ever get to six wins in a season and get to a bowl game, that’s darn hard to do.”

Bears – A team that was predicted to repeat as Big 12 champion limped to the finish on a four-game losing streak. Aranda will revamp his defensive staff, including hiring a new coordinator.

POPPING THE POWER 5

Air Force has won its last five games against Power 5 programs over the last four seasons. That includes two wins over Colorado and one each against Washington State and Louisville.

TAKING A KNEE

Air Force running back John Lee Eldridge III wasted little time after the final whistle, rushing to propose to his girlfriend, Shanice Atkins, on the field. She accepted.