BOISE, Idaho (AP) Air Force capped one of the best turnarounds in college football, using a strong ground attack and a huge defensive touchdown to beat Western Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Shayne Davern ran for a career-high 101 yards and two touchdowns and Air Force beat Western Michigan 38-24 on a soggy Saturday night.
The Falcons finished the season 10-3 after going 2-10 last year.
”We’re night and day from where we were last year,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. ”This is just one season – we know that. It’s a neat accomplishment with amazing contributions by a lot of people.” That was the case Saturday.
Miami of Ohio was the last previous team to follow a 10-loss season with 10 victories, going from 1-11 in 2009 to 10-4 in 2010.
Western Michigan finished 8-5 after going 1-11 last season. The loss dropped the program’s postseason record to 0-6.
Davern was selected the team’s most valuable player. He ran 6 yards on a fake punt in the second quarter that kept a drive alive and helped the Falcons take a 20-10 halftime lead.
Calhoun said special teams coordinator Ben Miller practically begged him to call the fake punt.
”He’s really sharp,” Calhoun said. ”He said, `It’s there and we need to do it.’ And we did.”
Air Force increased its lead to 23-10 on Will Conant’s 31-yard field goal.
The Broncos pulled to 23-17 on a 35-yard touchdown pass, the second of three scoring passes from Zach Terrell to Corey Davis.
After forcing an Air Force punt on the next possession, Western Michigan’s Daniel Braverman returned a punt for a touchdown and appeared to pull his team even, but the play was called back because of an illegal block in the back.
”It was a penalty,” Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck said. ”We didn’t need the block. You’re not going to beat a team like that making that many mistakes.”
Instead of tying the score or taking the lead, Western Michigan moved Air Force territory when the comeback ended. Terrell was hit while scrambling by Falcon linebacker Shane Proctor and fumbled. Air Force defensive back Dexter White scooped up the loose ball and returned it 60 yards for the game-clinching touchdown.
”That was big,” Air Force linebacker Jordan Pierce said. ”I’m proud of our defense. That touchdown really turned the game in our favor – that’s all she wrote.”
Terrell said he was looking for Davis when he started to scramble.
”I didn’t realize someone was behind me,” Terrell said. ”The ball is our program. I can’t let that happen. I have to have a vice grip on the ball and can’t let it get out.”
Fleck agreed that play was a back-breaker.
”That’s a 14-point swing in about 35 seconds,” Fleck said. ”We’ve got to learn from that and find ways to win. That’s how quick a football game can change.”
Western Michigan entered the game averaging 178.5 yards per game rushing but finished with only 79 on 26 carries.
”Our No. 1 objective is to stop the run and knew they had a really powerful running back (Jarvion Franklin),” Pierce said. ”We did that. We also had a good pass rush, good coverage and a little help from the weather. They didn’t hurt us too much.”
”Give Air Force all the credit,” Fleck said. ”It was like running uphill, both ways in the snow backwards against their defense.”
Davis finished with eight catches for 176 yards and three touchdowns to earn the most valuable player honor for his team.
Air Force snapped a two-game bowl losing streak. The Falcons last won a postseason game in 2010 when they beat Georgia Tech in the Independence Bowl.
”Air Force knows how to win and deserves a lot of credit,” Fleck said.
”This means a lot to us,” Davern said. ”It just feels awesome, especially for the seniors. We got a 10-win season.”