By Troy Garnhart
Air Force accepted a bid Sunday as the Mountain West Conference representative to play in the 2009 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, scheduled for Dec. 31 in Fort Worth, Texas.
Air Force will play against the 25th-ranked Houston Cougars of Conference-USA at Amon G. Carter Stadium beginning at 11 a.m. Central Standard Time. The game will air on ESPN.
“We are thrilled to have the Air Force Academy as the MWC’s representative,” said Brant B. Ringler, the bowl’s executive director. “With Falcon and military fans numerous at our past two New Year’s Eve games, we’ve established record attendance figures.”
Falcons head coach Troy Calhoun lauded his team for earning a third consecutive bowl appearance.
“It’s a remarkable accomplishment by our cadets,” he said. “We never take that for granted. It is a great opportunity to play in a bowl game – but we aren’t content just to play. We are going to play to win.”
Calhoun said Air Force looks forward to playing the Cougars.
“We know the University of Houston has a very rich football history and currently has an incredibly talented team,” he said. “They have great size and skilled people; they have a great quarterback; they are absolutely loaded at receiver.”
Defensive back and team captain Ben Garland said winning a bowl game has been one of the Falcons’ main goals coming into the 2009 season.
“It would certainly be a great way to go out,” said Garland, a senior and native of Grand Junction Colo. “We love this opportunity to play Houston State and go up against such a powerful offense with all those great weapons. We look forward to the challenge.”
The matchup will be the third between Air Force and Houston in 15 months. They first played Sept. 13, 2008 in Dallas, in a game that was moved from Houston due to Hurricane Ike. The Falcons won the teams’ first match, 31-28. The two played in the 2008 Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth Dec. 31, 2008, and the Cougars won the rematch, 34-28.
“This game offers us a chance at redemption from last season,” Garland said. “This will give us an opportunity to show what our team is about.”
Offensive lineman Nick Charles said he also looks forward to the second chance to win against Houston in the bowl game.
“You don’t always get second or third chances, but we have one,” said Charles, a senior and one of 27 Falcons players originally from Texas. “It’s been an awesome journey for this senior class, and (winning) would put an exclamation point on our careers.”
Air Force finished the 2009 regular season at 7-5 (5-3). The Falcons’ defense is one of the best in school history, with a scoring defense ranked ninth in the nation with 15 points allowed per game, a top-ranked passing defense with 149 yards allowed per game and 10th-ranked total defense with 280 yards allowed per game. The Falcons rank third nationally in turnovers with a +17 mark this season, including two fumble returns and three interception returns for touchdowns.
The Air Force offense has ranked among the nation’s top five in rushing all season with more than 270 yards per game. The Falcons are poised to win an 11th straight MWC rushing title this season. Air Force is one of just 15 teams nationally to score in 75 percent or more of the quarters it has played.
Houston finished 10-3 and won the C-USA West with a 6-2 division record. The Cougars’ offense is one of the best in the nation, with the top passing offense (450 yards per game), best overall offense (581 yards per game) and second in scoring offense (44 points per game).