Game Preview: Bowled Over Year After Year

By Troy Phillips

How many wild, made-for-ESPN moments can a bowl game cram into 16 years?

There’s likely no answer within grasp, since the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl isn’t finished adding to a nostalgic pile of what-the-what moments.

Generally bad decisions: Channel-surfing, munchie breaks or restroom trips during an Armed Forces Bowl.

If form holds, those watching at TCU’s Amon Carter Stadium and at home could see another good one when Houston (8-4) faces No. 22 Army (10-2) in the 16th Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 22 at 2:30 p.m.

Army marks the 10th appearance of a service academy in the bowl, and the Black Knights’ third overall. Houston is back for a fifth LMAFB, having faced Kansas, Air Force (twice) and Pittsburgh in previous editions. A win would give either a third, magnificent LMAFB trophy, among the baddest and heaviest in the bowl business – the one forged from battle-worn armament and finished in a black matte.

“Great matchup,” LMAFB executive director Brant Ringler said. “We’ve had these programs here before. We always know we’re getting something special with them. Seeing them go against each other with their great fan bases will be special.”

Eight of 15 Armed Forces Bowls on the books have been decided by a touchdown or less. In their eight combined appearances, Houston and Army have made significant contributions to the magical moments. Houston has been a party to what could be flat described as bowl hijinks.

“There’s definitely been some luck involved with the teams we’ve had,” Ringler said. “Maybe it was the offense they ran or they had some spectacular players. That all plays into it. I don’t know what’s in store this time, but it’ll be exciting.”

Among the more notable twists and turns through the years:

• Boise State recovering a late TCU fumble to set up a TD to win 34-31 in 2003.

• Cincinnati’s Gino Guidugli in 2004 fighting through a 17-degree wind chill and padded glove on his injured throwing hand to complete 10 straight passes in a 14-for-16 stretch before halftime, with two TDs to give the Bearcats a permanent lead.

• Eric Weddle’s TD run and interception on the game’s final play in 2006 to cap Utah’s win over Tulsa.

• Cal (2007) and a roster full of future NFL stars storming back from a 21-0 deficit in the second half to muscle up Air Force and win, 42-36.

• Air Force (2009) intercepting Houston’s Case Keenum six times, and each team scoring a TD on alternating, consecutive kickoffs in the Falcons’ win.

• A 55-yard fumble return for a TD by Army’s Josh McNary, and a late, crucial 22-yard pass on third down gave West Point a 16-14 win over SMU in 2010.

• BYU’s Riley Nelson faking a ball-spike that froze Tulsa’s defense, then throwing a third TD pass to Cody Hoffman for a 24-21 win in 2011.

• Houston recovering two onside kicks, Greg Ward Jr. throwing for three TDs and the winning 2-point conversion, all in four minutes, as the Cougars mounted an epic rally from down 31-6 to beat Pittsburgh 35-34 in 2015.

• Future No. 1 NFL draft pick Jared Goff of Cal throwing six TD passes (also in 2015 by the calendar) against Air Force in his final college game.

• Louisiana Tech 48, Navy 45 in 2016. The score says it all, mostly.

• Army in 2017 running 60 more plays (91 total) than San Diego State, overcoming 221 rushing yards and four TDs by the Aztecs’ Rashaad Penny, and with a winning 2-point conversion with 18 seconds to play.

“I was so tired of Penny,” Army coach Jeff Monken said. “Every time they handed him the ball it was like he was shot out of a cannon. It was some finish, a thrilling victory. Great memory.”

Not to mention, Army tacked on an extra TD with no time remaining by returning an errant Aztecs lateral for a score.

At Armed Forces Bowls, even footnotes can be exciting.

Fort Worth-based freelance writer Troy Phillips has covered 11 of the past 12 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowls.