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Air Force Falcons recover from slow start to win Arizona Bowl 45-21

Air Force turned a potential blowout loss into a blowout win with 42 straight points to beat South Alabama in the NOVA Arizona Bowl.

NCAA Football: Arizona Bowl-South Alabama vs Air Force Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

If you are going to be an officer in the United States Air Force, you have to be cool under all kinds of pressure. But the Air Force Falcons football team had to have a little bit of panic in it early as the South Alabama Jaguars jumped out to a 21-3 lead at the NOVA Arizona Bowl. The Falcons seemed to be surprised with the athleticism and speed of the Jaguars, who dominated most of the first half. And if not for a desperation dive and strip as running back Xavier Johnson from South Alabama was running for a touchdown by senior safety Weston Steelhammer, the Falcons would have been down by even more.

But the Falcons would adjust and go on a big momentum run. The Falcons would get a field goal from Luke Strebel to make it 21-6. The defense would hold and running back Ronald Cleveland would score from 14 yards out to make it 21-13 South Alabama with 1:49 left in the first half. South Alabama would decide to go to the air trying to score, but lady luck would be wearing an Air Force hat today as the ball would slip out of quarterback Dallas Davis’ hands and be recovered by Air Force deep in South Alabama territory. The Falcons would pitch the ball to senior running back Jacobi Owens and he would score from the one to make the score 21-19. With Air Force going to kick the extra point, a South Alabama offsides penalty would change Head Coach Troy Calhoun’s mind and quarterback Arion Worthman would run to his right and draw the defense at him. Worthman flipped the ball to senior wide receiver Jalen Robinette and the game would be tied at 21-21 going into halftime.

Air Force decided to keep Uncle Mo on their side coming out of the locker room by going over the top of the aggressive Jaguars defense and 75-yards later, Robinette would have a touchdown and the rout seemed to be at hand. South Alabama could not find any sustained offense, and would also turn the ball over with a diving interception by Steelhammer. Junior wide receiver Tyler Williams and Owens would each have a touchdown as the Falcons lead grew to 45-21. Air Force’s defense, who was on the ropes early after Josh Magee’s 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the game, would completely shut down South Alabama to allow the Falcons running game to eat clock after Worthman had to pass more than usual against a talented and big Jaguar defense.

The Falcons end the season at 10-3 overall, their second 10 win season in the past three years. It is Calhoun’s fourth bowl victory in nine tries. The Falcon seniors will graduate as one of the most successful classes in Academy history with 28 wins, two bowl victories and two Commander-in-Chief trophies in their three years as key contributors for the team. Steelhammer and Robinette will go on to play for pro scouts in post season bowl games and try to get themselves drafted to the NFL with Owens (who went over 3,000 yards rushing for his career) having a chance to be a third Falcon who might be able to establish a pro career with the new rules for Academy student/athletes instituted this past summer. All in all, this has been a special three years for Air Force football.