College football got turned around a bit today, and blame it on Air Force. The skimpy sky blues beat the burnt oranges, as in the once-powerful University of Texas. And shut the Falcons' mouth if they didn't do it with a wishbone in the Longhorns' home state.
Improbable as it seems, Air Force might have to start calling itself a football school after its 24-16 victory over Texas on what was a fine afternoon for a Bluebonnet Bowl. It was the 10th-ranked Falcons' fourth straight postseason victory with the offense invented in Austin. They finished their season at 12-1 and suddenly stricken by their own glamor.
"It's super beating a Southwest Conference team like Texas," said quarterback Bart Weiss, "let alone a team with the national prestige and reputation that Texas has. It's a great thing for the team and the Academy."
As for Texas, start mourning the passing of the Longhorns. This was their fourth straight postseason loss, and it didn't even come in the Cotton Bowl after an 8-3 season. The Longhorns scored just one touchdown, on a 34-yard pass from Bret Stafford to tight end William Harris on the first series of the game, they trailed by 14-7 at intermission and were held to three Jeff Ward field goals in the second half.
"I have never given in to what-iffing and I'm not going to start now," Texas Coach Fred Akers said. "We did not play well enough to win. We had the effort, but we did not play smart enough."
Air Force got touchdown runs of one yard each from halfback Greg Pshsniak and Weiss in the first half, and a 19-yard third-quarter scoring run from fullback Pat Evans, who rushed for a season-high 129 yards and was named the Falcons' MVP. Tom Ruby added a 40-yard field goal with 43 seconds left.
But you could build an awfully good argument that Texas, which had every kind of size advantage over the small Falcons, gave this one away. Weiss' touchdown was set up by a fumbled kickoff, and Evans' run and Ruby's field goal were set up by interceptions of Stafford.
The Longhorns were deep in Air Force territory three times in the second half, but they could not score a touchdown. They failed on consecutive possessions from the 7-, 14- and 11-yard lines and settled for Ward's field goals, which set an individual Bluebonnet Bowl record.
Part of the trouble was the inexplicably unimaginative play calling: Texas faced third and long three times after dives up the middle were stopped easily by Air Force, and suddenly you had to wonder if the Longhorns weren't being a little conservative.
It was not as if Air Force didn't give them opportunities. The Falcons could not sustain a drive in the second half and Mark Simons was forced to punt nine times. He finished the game with 11 punts for an average of 49.2 yards, both Bluebonnet records. Texas outgained Air Force in almost every category, with 302 yards of offense to 194.
The Longhorns held the Falcons to a miserable two-for-14 success rate on third down conversions, and Weiss completed just one of five passes for five yards and gained 41 yards on 21 carries.
But Texas wasn't much better, converting just five of 16 third downs. Stafford completed nine of 18 passes for 88 yards and rushed for 63 more, but his interceptions probably were the difference. Tailbacks Charles Hunter and Edward Simmons were limited to 58 and 57 yards, respectively, by a small but swarming Air Force defense.
Texas opened the second half with a nine-play, 74-yard drive that could have given it control of the game, Stafford breaking loose for a 52-yard run along the way. But the Longhorns were held to Ward's 24-yard field goal when they could not score with a first down at the 10, getting only to the seven in three plays.
Stafford's first interception then gave Air Force the momentum again, as well as a 21-10 lead. On first and 10 at the 22, Stafford looked downfield for wide-open Everett Gay. But the ball was overthrown, went in and out of his hands, and defensive back Tom Rotello came down with it. He returned it 27 yards to the Texas 23 and the Falcons scored one play later, Evans making his 19-yard touchdown run untouched with 3:35 left in the third period.
"I saw all the Texas players at the banquets the last few days and they all looked huge," Evans said. "They're big and quick. We didn't know if we could run the ball like that."
The Longhorns answered Evans' touchdown with another field goal from Ward, this one a 31-yarder to end a nine-play, 45-yard drive. Scott Thomas knocked down Stafford's pass to Kim McCray on third and four at the Falcons' 14.
On its next series, Texas got as far as the Air Force 11. Again, the Longhorns failed on a third-down conversion, Stafford throwing incomplete to Harris in the end zone on third and six. Ward kicked a 28-yarder with 7:34 left to make it 21-16.
The Longhorns had one more chance, taking over on their seven with 2:49 to go. But on first down Stafford almost was caught for a safety, and on third and 12 he threw his second interception, Dwan Wilson picking it off at the Texas 30 with 1:49 left.
"They were smaller but quicker," Simmons said of the Falcons. "And they were swarming . . . We get the ball inside their 20 three times and we get field goals. You can't win like that."
Air Force's 14-7 halftime lead came on two touchdowns within five minutes of each other, thanks to Texas' fumbled kickoff return. Texas had taken a 7-0 lead on its first possession when Stafford threw his 34-yard touchdown pass to Harris.