By Michael Haag | Sports Editor
In a bowl game that honors service members in all branches of the armed forces, the fans in attendance sure deserve a salute, too.
But only one side of the stadium had much to cheer for, as Baylor’s offense was frozen over by Air Force and its defense.
In frigid 13-degree weather paired with a 20 mph wind, the United States Air Force Academy’s football program got the best of a Power Five opponent for the fifth-straight time, defeating Baylor 30-15 Thursday night in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth.
The Bears (6-7, 5-4 Big 12) end the season on a four-game losing streak, while the Falcons (10-3, 5-3 MW Mountain) notch back-to-back 10-win seasons, hitting that mark in three of the last four seasons — something unprecedented for a military academy.
“This senior class has won 10 games in three different times; it is the only time it has happened,” Falcons head coach Troy Calhoun said. “Will we ever see that again? We may not.”
For Baylor, the game wrapped up an underwhelming year in which the squad finished under .500 following a 12-2 season in which the Bears won a Big 12 championship along with a Sugar Bowl trophy.
“From a team perspective, it’s a disappointing end to a disappointing season,” Baylor head coach Dave Aranda said. “A lot to be learned for our returners and our younger people. A lot to look at and try to emulate as well.”
Coming into the season, the Bears were ranked in the top 10 with sky-high expectations. But by Thursday night, Air Force athletes were getting the accolades with a 379-230 edge in total yardage.
Air Force imposed its will on the ground, rolling to 276 yards rushing, while holding Baylor’s attack to just 42 yards. Fifth-year senior linebacker Dillon Doyle told reporters after the game that he wore a lot of those defensive struggles on his sleeve.
“I’m disappointed in the way we played as defensive players, and that starts with me,” Doyle said. “Looking back, you always see things you could have done better. But I’m thankful for the opportunity to step out there tonight one last time with those guys.”
The Bears’ first three drives were punts, and the fourth saw fifth-year senior kicker John Mayers miss a 38-yard field goal attempt wide left. Meanwhile, the Falcons capitalized on their first drive by marching 55 yards down the field on 15 plays to take an early 6-0 lead, as the extra point attempt was blocked.
Air Force’s second drive came late in the first quarter and ended with a successful 37-yard field goal. In that quarter, Baylor gave up nine points and allowed over 5 yards per carry from the Falcons’ offense. The Bears, led by Aranda as fill-in defensive coordinator, clamped down in the second quarter, holding Air Force scoreless and allowing under 3 yards per attempt.
On the flip side, Baylor’s offense didn’t do much until the end of the first half. Sophomore quarterback Blake Shapen and company found their only points just before intermission. Shapen led the offense in a two-minute drill and completed three of four passes — the final completion an 8-yard dart to sophomore wide receiver Hal Presley.
Trudging into the break trailing 9-7, the Bears had momentum and gave themselves a chance to take an advantage for the first time.
The Falcons had other ideas, though.
After receiving the second half kick, Air Force took a page out of Baylor’s notebook and scored in five plays. On that drive, the Falcons’ senior quarterback Haaziq Daniels tossed a 68-yard bomb down the sideline with the wind guiding the ball.
That score was the start of what became 21 unanswered Air Force points that stretched into the early part of the fourth quarter. Baylor had its chances, as it was set up with good field position twice in the third quarter, but both drives ended with failed fourth down conversions. In fact, the Bears had only 13 total yards of offense in the entire third quarter.
For the entire game, Baylor was 0/11 on third down and never able to sustain much offense.
“Disappointed on a whole, offensively,” Aranda said. “Previous games, there was probably more juice and excitement and all of it to play. Way disappointed in the lack of that.”
Late in the final quarter, the Bears’ offense found a rhythm and scored in just four plays.
Shapen connected with sixth-year senior Gavin Holmes from 14 yards out and scrambled for a two-point conversion to bring the score to 30-15. But a failed onside kick attempt all but wrapped it up, as Air Force used all four downs to move the chains and negate Baylor’s three timeouts.
Aranda said the team needs to do three things in preparation for next season. He said it starts by continuing to recruit guys and try to get them on campus over the next few weeks.
The second piece is more focused on the returners he’ll have from this current squad. Lastly, he deals with the bulk of Baylor’s recruiting class, which was announced on Wednesday.
“They’re so impressive, and we’re so excited about [them],” Aranda said. “Getting them settled in and really setting standards and expectations on how the winter is going to go, so we can get started off on the right spot. I think all of that’s aided with the team that’s been through some tough lessons and has seen one way to do it and another way to do it. We’ve all got to get aligned to do it the right way.”