(Wednesday, December 31st)
Final Score: Houston 34, Air Force 28
Fort Worth, TX (Sports Network) - Case Keenum threw for 252 yards with a touchdown and ran for a pair of scores as Houston held on to edge Air Force, 34-28, in the Armed Forces Bowl at Carter Stadium.
Keenum completed 22-of-33 passes and was intercepted once, while Bryce Beall rushed for 135 yards on 22 carries with a TD and also had four grabs for 92 yards for Houston (8-5), which snapped an eight-game bowl losing skid. The Cougars' last bowl victory came in 1980, when they beat Navy in the Garden Bowl. Houston finished the campaign having won four of its last five.
"We benefitted from being in close games three of the last four in the regular season," Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "That was a big help today. It helps a team to win these. The defense came up big several times today, and the offense did what it had to do to produce at the end. I was pleased with the win. It was a real football game, great for the team, for the program and university."
Andre Kohn chipped in with three catches for 32 yards and a score, and Tyron Carrier had five catches for 49 yards in the win.
Jared Tew led the Air Force offense with 149 yards rushing on 27 touches and two touchdowns, while Tim Jefferson completed 7-of-14 passes for 98 yards and ran for a score. The Falcons (8-5) lost for the second year in a row in this bowl game, having dropped a 42-36 decision to California a year ago.
Asher Clark gained 57 yards on 16 carries and Spencer Armstrong had two grabs for 60 yards in defeat.
With the game deadlocked at 17-17 after one half, Houston came out of the locker room and put together a well orchestrated seven-play, 69-yard drive that culminated with Keenum's four-yard TD scamper. Ryan Harrison's 37-yard effort, however, would get the Falcons within 24-20 with 3:51 left in the third.
Following a 29-yard punt by Harrison that gave the Cougars excellent field possession at the Air Force 42, Houston needed only three plays to find the end zone. Keenum hit Kohn with a 13-yard strike that made it a 31-20 game.
With Houston driving again, Keenum's pass went off the hands of his intended receiver and was picked off by Aaron Kirchoff and returned 17 yards to the Houston 30-yard-line. The turnover led to a two-yard TD run by Tew and two- point conversion run by Jefferson to get the Falcons within 31-28 with just over six minutes left in the fourth.
A 38-yard field goal by Jordan Mannisto put Houston up 34-28 with 3:24 remaining. On Air Force's ensuing possession and facing a 4th-and-8 from its own 38, Jefferson had his pass batted away and the Cougars ran out the clock to preserve the victory.
"It was a tough and hard-fought game," Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun said. "Overall, the whole week has been great. I want to thank the Textron Bell Helicopter personnel and Armed Forces as well as the bowl staff for a great week. Our young people fought hard the whole game. Before the game, I thought we would have to play faster and quicker than we did all year. We didn't do that."
Houston capitalized on a Falcons turnover and opened the scoring 1:33 into the contest. Armstrong fumbled the opening kickoff and the Cougars wasted little time getting on the board. Employing a no-huddle offense, Beall banged it in from a yard out, capping a brief four-play, 25-yard drive.
Air Force quickly responded on its ensuing possession, going 77 yards on six plays with Tew finishing off the set with a two-yard run that took only 1:53 off the game clock and tied things at 7-7.
Keenum's one-yard quarterback keeper surged the Cougars back in front by seven midway through the opening quarter.
After an exchange of punts, Air Force got the ball back but Clark coughed it up with Phillip Hunt returning it 10 yards to the Falcons' 14-yard-line. Despite having a 1st-and-goal at the one, the Cougars were unable to break the plane and had to settle for a 22-yard chip shot by Mannisto, making it a 17-7 game with four seconds left in the first period.
Jefferson's five-yard sneak with 9:52 left in the second finished off a lengthy 12-play, 76-yard drive that got the Falcons within three. Harrison had a chance to even things 4 1/2 minutes later but his 28-yard field goal attempt drifted wide right.
Harrison would get a chance to redeem himself with 2:28 to go before the half and the normally sure-footed kicker this time split the uprights from 44 yards out, tying things at 17-17.
Following a missed 55-yard attempt by Harrison with 46 ticks remaining, Houston ran the hurry-up offense to perfection, quickly moving the ball down to the Air Force 14 with eight seconds left.
The Cougars then called a timeout and instead of attempting the field goal, the offense remained on the field an inexplicably ran a screen play to Carrier, but instead of getting out of bounds to kill the clock, Carrier turned upfield and was tackled in the field of play as time ran out to end the half with the contest tied at 17-17.
Air Force dropped to 8-10-1 all-time in postseason play...Houston was making its 19th bowl appearance and is now 8-10-1 all-time...These teams met earlier this season for the first time, with the Falcons picking up a 31-28 victory over Houston back on September 13.
12/31 18:16:06 ET