Defensive play turns momentum, brings Air Force a bowl win

BOISE, Idaho — A turnaround play capped a turnaround season.

Air Force linebacker Spencer Proctor stripped Western Michigan quarterback Zach Terrell on a scramble early in the fourth quarter in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Saturday. Linebacker Dexter Walker grabbed the loose ball and scampered 60 yards down the sideline for a touchdown — just as it looked like Air Force was losing control of the game. The Falcons went on to beat the Broncos 38-24.

The victory put a championship topper on a 10-3 season for the Falcons, who were 2-10 last year.

“That touchdown really just turned the game in our favor and that’s all she wrote,” Air Force senior linebacker Jordan Pierce said.

Walker’s touchdown came moments after a Western Michigan punt return for a touchdown was negated by a block in the back. The touchdown would have tied the score, pending the point-after.

“It was a block in the back,” Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck said. “It’s a great return by Daniel Braverman. He didn’t need the block. That guy makes everybody miss anyway. That’s definitely tough, but we could have overcome it.”

The Broncos took possession at their own 47-yard line down 23-17. Three plays later, the Falcons’ defensive touchdown made it 31-17 with 9:52 to play — and they cruised the rest of the way.

“That about four-play sequence right there were gigantic plays,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. ” … That was the first defensive touchdown we’ve had in, oh, baby — I studied history at the academy, but it’s been a while.”

Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis had eight catches for 176 yards and three touchdowns, but the Broncos’ other 56 plays netted just 200 yards.

“That was like running uphill both ways in the snow backward the way they played their defense,” Fleck said.

Western Michigan finished 8-5 and still hasn’t won a bowl game in school history. But the Broncos were 1-11 last year, so they appear on the right trajectory.

“We’re not there yet,” Fleck said. “Simple as that. We had a lot of opportunities to win the football game and didn’t take advantage of it.”

Air Force won despite a terrible start.

On the Falcons’ first play, wide receiver Jalen Robinette dropped a pitch. Western Michigan recovered on the Air Force 30-yard line.

The Broncos converted a third-and-10 but committed a holding penalty in the red zone and settled for a 25-yard field goal by Andrew Haldeman for a 3-0 lead.

The Falcons were called for two penalties on their next drive but started to get their offense clicking on the third. Wide receiver Garrett Brown took a pitch for 10 yards and Western Michigan was flagged for two key penalties — a face mask that negated a sack and an offside infraction on third-and-4.

Sophomore fullback Shayne Davern finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. A botched point-after attempt left the score 6-3 Air Force.

Western Michigan took the lead early in the second quarter. Terrell dropped a perfect strike to Davis on a post route for a 47-yard touchdown to make it 10-6.

Air Force, though, didn’t flinch. The Falcons answered in three plays, the last a 55-yard run by Davern on a dive. He broke a tackle about 5 yards downfield and was gone. Air Force led 13-10.

On the Falcons’ next drive, Davern gained 8 yards on a fourth-and-2 fake punt. He took the direct snap and easily rumbled past the first-down marker. Quarterback Kale Pearson threw a 38-yard strike to Robinette on the next play.

The Falcons ended up with second-and-goal at the 1. Pearson tried two unsuccessful sneaks. On fourth-and-1, he pitched to tailback Devin Rushing. Rushing was hit at about the 1 but fell onto the goal line for the touchdown. The 15-play drive made it 20-10 Air Force.

NOTES: The Air Force provided a flyover by two F-15E Strike Eagles from nearby Mountain Home Air Force Base. The Air Force Academy’s Wings of Blue jump team parachuted into the stadium. … Air Force won the coin toss and took the ball. … It was raining at kickoff and pouring when the second half began. … Air Force wore all blue uniforms, looking somewhat like Boise State on the blue field. … The official attendance was 18,223. The actual attendance looked about half that. … Western Michigan is 0-6 in bowl games.

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