Hawaii got off to its best start of the season. It didn't last, and it wasn't enough.
The Warriors put together a game-opening touchdown drive for the first time this year, only to be overwhelmed by Air Force's relentless rushing attack and a crucial mistake of their own making in a 21-7 loss to the Falcons on Friday night.
Wes Cobb scored twice on short runs and Cody Getz rushed for 125 yards as Air Force (6-5, 5-2 Mountain West) headed to a postseason game for the sixth straight season under coach Troy Calhoun. The team accepted a bid to the Armed Forces Bowl after the game.
"We had a pretty good game plan coming into the week to stop their running attack, and they made a few adjustments and we were caught off guard, I guess," said Hawaii defensive end Paipai Falemalu. "Our coaches did a good job of adjusting to it, but when we were in position to make plays, we just didn't make the tackles. A lot of missed tackles is what killed us."
Air Force didn't even attempt a pass all night, relying on a ground game that's ranked second in the country. The Falcons finished with 338 yards rushing, including runs of 54 yards by Getz and 52 yards by Jon Lee.
"That's what they do," said Hawaii coach Norm Chow. "And we knew that and everybody knew that. They did a nice job with it. That's a good football team. They have it down. They have such a nice system for themselves. I'm sure they knew exactly what they were doing."
Jeremy Higgins made his first start for Hawaii and directed a scoring drive to open the game. But the fast start soon faded and the Warriors (1-9, 0-7) went on to lose for an eighth straight time, the second-longest skid in school history. Hawaii's record is 19 straight losses from 1997-99.
"It was exciting, that first drive, but we've got to play four quarters," said Higgins, who ended the drive with his first career touchdown pass, a 26-yarder to Clark Evans. "Especially the second half, we came out really sluggish. We went three-and-out twice in a row and it was just a bad third quarter for us."
Meanwhile, Getz had another big night, eclipsing the 100-yard mark for the sixth time this season. The diminutive back had a 5-yard TD run early in the third quarter to break a 7-7 tie.
Cobb had the other Air Force scores on a pair of 2-yard TD bursts.
Hawaii was in prime position to tie the game after Charles Clay recovered a muffed punt deep in Air Force territory. Three plays later, though, Hawaii running back Joey Iosefa turned it right back over to the Falcons.
"That was a tough one," Higgins said. "We got the fumble on the punt and then that was a big turnover for us at a crucial part of the game. But that stuff happens. I'm not going to blame him, because we had a bunch of times where we could have moved the ball."
Cobb plowed in from 2 yards out to tie the game at 7 early in the second quarter. The score would remain tied at halftime as Tyler Hadden's 60-yard field goal attempt wound up well short as time expired.
Higgins stepped in for Sean Schroeder, who's struggled to ignite an offense that ranks among the worst in the nation. Higgins finished 14 of 23 for 125 yards before being relieved by Schroeder late in the game.
"All those games we lost are over and there's nothing we can do about them," Falemalu said. "We've just got to keep working hard and move on to the next week. We have two games left and we've got to try to make the most of it."