By Ron Richards, www.armedforcesbowl.com
(See the Falcon piece below by Andrea Masenda, www.armedforcesbowl.com)
There were lots of long faces and a dearth of smiles in the Air Force locker room Saturday after the Falcons were dispatched 33-14 by Rice University in the 10th annual Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas.
The tale of this game came in the second half when the under-manned Falcons watched as the Owls scored 26 unanswered points after Air Force managed to secure – and cling to – a 14-7 margin at the half.
“Clearly, the difference in this game was the second half,” said Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun. “They really took control in all phases of the game during the second half. Their offense did a super job and their defense was absolutely sensational in the second half. When you don’t make first downs and you don’t score points, you are gonna have a hard time winning games.”
All it took was a look at the final stat sheet to see just how dominant Rice was over the final 30 minutes. After giving up an acceptable 172 yards in the first half while forcing three turnovers, including one just a couple yards short of their end zone in the final seconds of the opening half, the Falcons allowed Rice to amass 331 yards and possess the ball for nearly 21 minutes during the final two quarters.
Armed Forces Bowl Most Valuable Player Jordan Taylor, a 6-5, 210-pound sophomore from Denison, Texas, caught nine passes on the day – seven in the second half – en route to a bowl record 153 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Most of the balls Taylor caught were thrown by backup quarterback Driphus Jackson, a sophomore who entered the game in the second quarter when starter Taylor McHargue took a hard hit.
“We had seen both quarterbacks on film and knew there was a chance we would see No.6 (Jackson),” said linebacker Alex Means, who ended the day with 12 tackles, eight of those unassisted with one tackle for loss. “There really was little difference between the two of them.”
Means paired with senior Austin Niklas to serve as the Falcon stoppers on defense. Niklas, who was selected by media as the Falcons’ Player of the Game, ended the day with 14 tackles, two of them for losses.
When asked about the porous Falcon pass defense, which surrendered 295 yards on the day, Means offered the following, “It was a combination of our secondary and DBs getting beat up pretty bad back there coupled with our lack of size. Rice had a lot better size in its receivers. Also, our defensive line and linebackers didn’t put enough pressure on their quarterback, especially in the second half.”
While the second half got away from the Falcons, during the first two quarters many things went their way. Rice scored first on a Jordan touchdown pass with 4:05 to go in the first period and then Air Force countered. Later, things continued to fall right for the Falcons as they called a timeout just as Rice kicker Chris Boswell booted a 52-yard field goal, forcing him to try again. He missed the second attempt.
Back-up Falcon quarterback Kale Pearson, a sophomore from Tulsa, Okla., came into the game midway through the second quarter to spell Connor Dietz and seemed to spark the offense, moving them down the field before he scampered nine yards for a score with 6:14 to go in the second period to tie the game.
The next Rice series saw McHargue sustain the big hit that put him out of the game and he fumbled the ball to Air Force on the play. The Falcons moved from the Rice 35 down the field and scored on a Wes Cobb one-yard run to end a nine-play drive and take the lead. The Owls rebounded and Jackson moved them down the field before the quarterback made an errant pitch on an option play inside the Falcon five-yard line that ended up in the hands of Air Force to end the half.
Air Force had managed to generate enough offense (156 yards) to gain the lead at the half. But that was short-lived as they struggled throughout the second half and managed just 58 total offense yards during the last 30 minutes.
“There were several times when they used their size to just overwhelm us,” said Calhoun. “I thought there were times we should have contested better but we just didn’t do it.
“There was no way we were gonna win a game like this playing the way we did offensively today,” he added. “We just really struggled. We absolutely have to increase our size. When you see the mass difference we saw on the field today, we have to come up with a way to change that part of the game.”
The Falcons’ appearance in the Armed Forces Bowl marked the sixth-straight season they have participated in a bowl. Air Force finished its season with a 6-7 record, the first losing campaign for the Falcons during the six seasons of Calhoun’s tenure. He has an overall record of 47-31 as head coach at the Academy.
By Andrea Mesenda, www.armedforcesbowl.com
The final game of Austin Niklas collegiate career at the Air Force Academy found him being selected as the Falcons’ Most Valuable Player in the 10th annual Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl.
Unfortunately, the game didn’t go the way the senior from Fullerton, Calif., would have liked to have finished his playing days as his Falcons lost to the Rice Owls, 33-14.
Niklas, with 10 solo tackles, and 14 total tackles, and two tackles for loss is now tied for the second-most tackles in a bowl game by any Air Force player.
Niklas and the Falcons had to adapt to a swap in quarterbacks just before the end of the first half when Rice freshman quarterback Driphus Jackson took over for injured junior Taylor McHargue. Although the Owls’ offense gave the Falcons trouble with Jackson throwing for 264 yards, Niklas said they weren’t really surprised by the play from the two quarterbacks.
“They’re both pretty good quarterbacks,” Niklas said. “From watching film, we’d seen that both quarterbacks would get playing time anyway, so I think we were pretty comfortable with the change.”
Niklas added that the squad expected particular plays from the Owls, and that they had practiced and prepared for them throughout the week.
“It just came down to execution. Putting bigger guys on our guys – you know we stopped them a few times,” Niklas said.
Niklas, a native of Fullerton, CA, ended the 2012 season with a total of 73 solo tackles, 128 overall, eight tackles for losses, a single pass deflection and three forced fumbles. A nice finish to a standout career at Air Force.
The Mountain West Conference awarded Niklas with Honorable Mention All-Mountain West and he also received All-Colorado First Team at the end of the 2012 season.
Niklas began his football career at Air Force playing for the junior varsity team in 2009. In 2010, Niklas played in 11 games with one varsity start. In 2011, he played in 13 games with one start.
For the Niklas family, the bowl season is not quite over. Niklas’ younger brother, Troy, plays tight end for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and will play for the National Championship against Alabama on Jan. 7.