SHREVEPORT, La. • Air Force cadets weren’t trained to keep plugging away on a football field when stakes are high but early results are poor. Basic training isn’t designed to teach a young man how to pick up a first down.
Yet, that background was important for the Falcons in the Independence Bowl on Monday.
The offense couldn’t move the ball through three quarters, and Georgia Tech held a 7-6 lead that looked like it might hold up. Air Force wasn’t rattled and rallied in the fourth quarter.
Senior fullback Jared Tew scored a go-ahead touchdown, and safety Jon Davis intercepted the Yellow Jackets’ final throw to win 14-7.
“We persevered,” quarterback Tim Jefferson said.
Air Force was handed some gifts. Georgia Tech lost three fumbles and suffered an interception. Two were muffed punts by Georgia Tech’s backup punt returner. But Air Force also was mentally strong through adversity and created some breaks. The biggest came in the third quarter when linebacker Austin Niklas knocked the ball from Yellow Jackets quarterback Tevin Washington at Air Force’s 5-yard line and the Falcons recovered.
Air Force took advantage of punt returner Daniel McKayhan’s second muffed punt on the final play of the third quarter. Air Force recovered at the 14-yard line, Tew picked up a first down on third-and-1 and then scored a 3-yard touchdown.
“Being in the Air Force Academy, the guys have the mindset of ‘Whatever it takes, we need to get a victory,’” said Tew, who had been out since Oct. 16 because of a broken fibula. “We didn’t play as well as we could have. Saying that, we came out with a victory.”
The first half was full of frustration and the third quarter was a struggle. In the first half, Air Force went for it four times on fourth down, and converted just once on a fake punt reverse to Mikel Hunter. Senior Zack Bell kicked a couple of field goals, but the Falcons trailed 7-6 at halftime.
Air Force didn’t get a first down in the third quarter. The defense couldn’t get off the field through an 18-play, 77-yard drive, but Niklas’ forced fumble kept the Yellow Jackets from scoring.
On consecutive scoring plays in the fourth quarter, the Falcons showed resourcefulness. On Tew’s touchdown, Falcons coach Troy Calhoun thought the play would be for a loss. TheGeorgia Tech nose tackle was shaded to the play side, but Tew improvised. He didn’t go wide like the play was called to do, and bulled into the end zone.
On the 2-point conversion, the Yellow Jackets used a safety blitz the Falcons didn’t expect. Calhoun said the coaches might have talked about what to do in that situation during training camp. Maybe.
“I thought, this is going to be a blowup, go the other way and it was going to be 12-9,” Calhoun said.
But Jefferson went wide, used the safety as the key on the option pitch and got the ball to Jonathan Warzeka for the 2-point conversion. The Falcons led 14-7.
“The guy that made that play was the quarterback,” Calhoun said.
The defense finished the win. Georgia Tech drove to Air Force’s 21-yard line but Davis intercepted a pass at the 2-yard line with 11 seconds left.
Air Force finished the season 9-4 with its second straight bowl win. The seniors finish their careers with 34 victories.
“A few years ago, what you heard was you couldn’t win consistently at Air Force,” Calhoun said. “These seniors have you convinced differently.”