AIR FORCE PLAYER OF THE GAME
Haaziq Daniels, Air Force quarterback
Haaziq Daniels didn’t have the best view of the action on Tuesday, and he was excited to fix that.
“I’m going to go watch the whole game,” the Air Force quarterback said of his plans to take in the ESPN broadcast of the Falcons’ 31-28 victory over Louisville as soon as possible.
Much of what took place came well beyond where the ball was released from Daniels’ right hand, like the downfield moves that allowed Brandon Lewis to score on a 64-yard pass.
Daniels finished the game 9-of-10 passing for 252 yards. His only incomplete pass was deliberately thrown away as he scrambled to the sideline ahead of a pass rush. Daniels also rushed for 29 yards and two touchdowns and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
SUBPLOTS WE WATCHED
Following up on items of intrigue we identified prior to the game.
The Cardinals answered any questions about their motivation in the second quarter. After falling behind 14-0, Louisville marched 65 yards on 11 plays, all on the ground, to score its first touchdown. This against an Air Force defense that entered the game ranked seventh in the nation against the run. The Cardinals played behind throughout the game and continued to battle back, clearly brushing aside any distractions caused by turmoil in the administration, the departure of three assistants in recent weeks and a bowl draw that did not excite the fan base of the ACC school. Air Force’s win was not the product of a disinterested Louisville team.
The athlete factor
An Air Force assistant told The Gazette that this was the most athletic team the Falcons had played in at least three years. The talent from players like tailback Trevion Cooley, linebacker C.J. Avery and safety Qwynnterrio Cole made itself evident on occasion in one-on-one situations, as did that of quarterback Malik Cunningham and kickoff returner Jawan Jordan. But it was also Louisville’s strong and athletic offensive line that allowed the Cardinals to run for 195 yards (5.3 per carry) and the defensive front that kept Air Force contained up the middle and limited the Falcons to 3.1 yards per rushing attempt.
The first and fourth quarters
Air Force did exactly what it would have hoped in the first quarter, finishing the first 15 minutes ahead 7-0 against a Louisville team that had outscored opponents 114-77 in the first quarter this season. The game was still separated by seven points (28-21) entering the fourth quarter. Louisville won the fourth quarter on the scoreboard, outscoring Air Force 7-3 over the final 15 minutes, but Air Force was able to do what it needed to do -- run the clock. The Falcons chewed off 9:36 in a drive that resulted in a field goal and a 10-point lead, then came up with the two first downs needed to seal the victory on the final possession. The Falcons led 12:29-2:31 in time of possession in the fourth quarter.
BY THE NUMBERS
Consecutive bowl victories for Air Force. The Falcons topped South Alabama in the Arizona Bowl in 2016, Washington State in the Cheez-It Bowl in 2019 and won their first meeting against Louisville in the First Responder Bowl on Tuesday.
This is the ninth 10-win season in Air Force history. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is more than the other two service academies combined. Navy has five 10-win seasons and Army has three.
Tackles – a team high – for Air Force sophomore safety Trey Taylor in this game played at Southern Methodist, where his father was a star linebacker in the late 1990s.
First downs for each team in a game that was statistically balanced. Air Force led 422-402 in total yards. Each team committed three penalties.
Yards per catch this season for Air Force’s Brandon Lewis, who caught 64- and 61-yard touchdown passes in the second quarter. Lewis finished his senior season with 20 catches for 600 yards. Trae Shropshire of UAB lead the nation with 26.0 yards per catch. Lewis didn’t reach the NCAA minimum of two catches per game to qualify for the national lead.
Consecutive running plays for Air Force (dating back to game No. 11) that was broken with a 40-yard pass to sophomore tight end Caleb Rillos, who made the first catch of his career.
Career tackles for Air Force linebacker Demonte Meeks, who didn’t play because of injury and saw his career come to a close.
Rushing yards this season for Air Force fullback Brad Roberts. Beau Morgan (1,494 yards in 1996) and Chad Hall (1,478 in 2007) put up more yards in a season for the Falcons. Roberts’ 298 rushing attempts established a new team record.