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Toledo edges Air Force, 42-41, in Military Bowl;
Botched two-point conversion in last minute foils Falcons
Washington, D.C. - Toledo (9-4) and Air Force (7-6) fought each other in an epic, exciting game down into the final minute at the fourth Military Bowl played in the nation's capitol. The Air Force Falcons closed the score to 42-41 on a 37-yard TD pass on a fourth and three from QB Tim Jefferson to Zach Kauth with :52 left in the game, but a fake two-point conversion was poorly executed as holder David Baska tried to option to kicker Parker Herrington with a low pitch and the ball rolled out of bounds to give Toledo a one-point win in a very exciting football game played between two of the top 25 scoring teams in the nation. The game featured scoring in many different ways. The Rockets jumped out to a 14-0 lead but Air Force fought back and tied up the game three times including a 35-35 deadlock entering the final period. It was a classic game only marred by the finish based on a poorly executed play instead on special teams after an amazing comeback to get within one. We thought the play call was made in desperation and had hoped to see the teams go into overtime, but the tremendous game "ended with a whimper, and not a bang." Too bad, it would have jumped up to the top our best game list if not for the play that ended the see-saw battle between two skilled, high-powered offenses going toe-to-toe throughout the game.
Toledo's came up short on a 46 -yard FG after its first possession of the game. Air Force started with a three and out. During the first long TV time-out of the game, five medal of Honor Recipients were introduced to the sparse crowd. Terrance Own connected with WR Bernard Reedy on a 17-yard TD pass to give Toledo a 7-0 lead with Ryan Casano's point after. John Warzeka took the short kick for Air Force but fumbled the ball and the Rocket offense was back in business at the Falcon 41. RB Adonis Thomas (108 yards on 22 carries) swept to the left, broke one tackle downfield and raced 41 yards to give the Rockets a 14-0 lead. Was this game going to get out of hand? Air Force replied starting from their own 36 on the ensuing drive. On third and long at TU's 22, Air Force set up with four wide-outs, and Tim Jefferson ran through a big hole through trap block on the right for the Falcon's first TD. Parker Herrington added the extra point for a 14-7 margin. Twelve seconds later, Toledo was back in the end zones as Eric page got a good block and returned the ensuing kickoff 87 yards up the middle for an 87-yard kickoff return. I said to Eric, " A TD pass, a long run, and a kickoff return. The Rockets have to score on an Interception return before this one is over. But before that could happen, Air Force proved that they could keep pace with these Rockets. Their next drive started from their won 37. On the second play, Warzeka scampered around the left end on the option for a 60-yard run down to the Toledo three. FB Mike DeWitt took it over from there to bring Air Force back within seven, 14-7, and 1:36 still remained in the first period. Air Force attempted and onsides kick, but Toledo maintained possession at the 50. The period ended with a sack putting Toledo on its own 41 with a fourth and 19. After the period ended and we settled in for another long TV time-out, Four new Airmen were sworn into the Air Force and two other recruits were sworn into the Coast Guard. I don't know if a lot of billets are already full for the Army , Navy, and Marine Corps, but at the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Services Bowl we attended in 2007, there were many more recruits for all the services sworn in at halftime of the Air Force-Cal game.
Air Force fair caught the punt to start the second period from the 21. They drove down to the one where two Toledo DTs went out with knee injuries on one play, the first time we'd ever remember seeing that. On a sweep to the right, Asher Clark took it over from the one on a fourth down to knot the score at 21-21. The Rockets could not be stopped once again. They finished off a 71-yard drive with Owens (19 for 24, 210 yards, three TDs) connecting with Reedy (126 yards, 4 catches, three TDs) over the middle for a 49-yard TD pass to retake a 28-21 lead. Toledo attempted an onsides kick that went out of bounds and Air Force started at the 47. On a fourth and short, the Toledo defense held and took over on downs on its own 25. A pass was completed to Reedy, but a great strip by DB Anthony Woodring resulted in a recovery by LB Austin Niklas at Toledo's 44. On a fourth and three at the TU 37, Jefferson hooked up with Warzeka over the middle and he beat his defender into the end zone for a 37-yard TD to tie once again, 28-28. That's the way the score ended going into half time as I searched three levels of RFK Stadium for an ATM to get Eric and I hot chocolates and hot dogs to warm up as the sun had set on the 4:30 pm start on a windy night with temperatures hanging around the low 30s.
Although our GGA said he came prepared, I luckily had brought him my extra pair of gloves. He said he had brought thermal underwear, but I also know that he was wearing sneakers instead of the insulated work boots I suggested that he bring. You'd think he knew by now that he was getting suggestions from the voice of experience. We also had reminisced about the Eagle Bank Bowl game ( as it was previously known) two seasons prior between UCLA and Temple on a cold, gusty night game at the same venue. It wasn't until later in the game that he would admit that he left his thermals in his locker at school. I knew he was stomping his feet later in the game to keep warm. I got back to our seats after the action starting returning with hot chocolates but no dogs as the line was still too long to wait for them.
Like the first half which finished with 56 total points, neither team scored on their first possessions of the second half. To break the ice, Toledo scored as I predicted. S Jermaine Robinson picked off a pass deflected by both a receiver and a defender to return the ball 35 yards for a TD and a 35-28 TU lead. Another short kickoff, as were kicks from both teams during this game, resulted in Air Force starting at the 50. A long TV time-out gave time to introduce Wounded Warriors in attendance. The Bowl committee truly tries to emphasize the sacrifices made by many in our military during the game. I hope it's captured on the TV broadcast during these TV time outs, especially with such a small crowd (no way there were 25,000+ among the 45,423 seats. It wasn't close to half-full.) Four plays got the Falcons down to the two-yard line where Dewitt powered over from left tackle and the score was tied once again, 35-35. Toledo's next drive was stopped when Niklas picked off an Austin Dantin pass at his ankles give the Academy possession from their own 29. Toledo started the final period on a drive starting from its own 25.
Toledo's ensuing punt
put Air Force at its own three. Starting deep in its own territory put Air
Force at a disadvantage as it couldn't gain a first down, and TU took possession
a the USAFA 38. Air Force pushed them back as
Extra points: On Tuesday because of rain and construction on the Jersey Turnpike, 95 in Maryland and all around D.C., the drive was over seven and a half hours. Taking 95 most of the way as we normally do on the way home Wednesday night, we got home in four hours.
Toledo HC Matt Campbell took over on December 12 with the departure of Tim Beckman who left to take over at Illinois. Before his three seasons as offensive coordinator for the Rockets, his coaching and playing career includes five national championships as a player and coach at D-3 Mt. Union. He was a first-team two time All American defensive linemen when they won national championships in 2000, 2001, and 2002. He was offensive coordinator there when they won back to back national championships. He is now the youngest Head Coach in the FBS at the age of 32.
Our move to section 523 gave us somewhat of an delayed view of skydivers from the Ranger Group Veteran Parachute Demo Team who landed on the field before the game. They came down right over us. However, the move was worth it to see the B2 Stealth Bomber coming right at us from far over the opposite end of the stadium. WE watched in soar in from a distance stealthily as it had taken off all the way from Missouri. We didn't hear the after burners until it had flown over our heads way beyond RFK Stadium.
Eric had realized that this was the third time we had attended this setting in four years and asked if I'd ever seen a game there before we came together. I remembered that I had been there in 1975 when I was at Navy when we defeated Air Force there 17-0. WR Phil McConkey had a TD and a big day for the Mids before he went on to play for the New York Giants and played at RFK many times against the Washington Redskins.
On Wednesday morning, we visited The Crime and Punishment Museum at 575 7th Street NW in DC. It had everything from Bonnie and Clyde's bullet-riddled car to a murder scene to solve. It gave a history of crime starting with medieval gadgets for punishment to electric chairs used in Texas and Tennessee. Eric's thinking about the study of criminology for a career.
The military displays out side of RFK were not as good or as entertaining as those we remembered at the Armed Forces Bowl. When we can fit this game into future bowl plans, we will try to get there.