Air Forces Running Attack Freezes Baylor in the Armed Forces Bowl

Air Force running back John Lee Eldridge (24) avoids being tackled by Baylor linebacker Dillon Doyle (5) during the third quarter at the 2022 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 22, 2022 (Jeff Dahlia/fi360 News)

Dallas, TX- An arctic blast of air didn’t stop the Air Force Falcons from euphoria during Wednesday’s Armed Forces Bowl against Baylor. Temperatures were at a record low of 13 degrees, with wind chills dipping to -3. Wednesday broke the previous bowl record set back in 2004 when Cincinnati and Marshall played at a 28-degree game-time temperature with a wind chill of 15. It set up Air Force’s main attack, their running game against a Baylor defense that averages under 138 yards rushing allowed a game during the season (45th in FBS).

Falcons quarterback Haaziq Daniels (4) is presented as the most valuable player after he helped lead Air Force past Baylor 30-15 at the 2022 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 22, 2022 (Jeff Dahlia/fi360 news)

Wednesday’s matchup with the fourth meeting among the schools, but it was the first since 1977. In those three previous meetings, Air Force scored a combined 17 points, outscored 79-17 to the Baylor Bears. The Armed Forces Bowl was the complete opposite of their previous history. “It was cold, “Air Force quarterback Hazziq Daniels said on the conditions. “My hands were freezing, but the staff did a good job of making sure we had coats on the sideline and we had those heaters on the sides. It helped, but it was cold regardless.” “It wasn’t that bad,” Air Force safety Jayden Goodwin said. “Every day walking to class, it’s cold as that, even colder. I’m used to it at this point, but I don’t think [Baylor] was.”

The Falcons dominated the first quarter. First, they won the coin toss, extending a streak where the team that won the toss won the game (for eight consecutive years). Then on their opening possession, Air Force went fifteen plays and fifty-five yards in eight and a half minutes of ball control. The drive ended on a two-yard touchdown run by Brad Roberts, where Baylor blocked the extra point. Falcons quarterback Hazziq Daniels threw twice on the drive, which converted a third down and fourth down. “[Daniels] is a good player, and he’s athletic,” Baylor senior Dillon Doyle said. “He can make all the throws and make all the runs. [I’m] disappointed in the way that we played as defensive players, and mainly that starts with me.” After another Baylor three-and-out, Air Force drove to the Baylor twenty-yard line, where the drive stalled, resulting in a Matthew Dapore field goal as the Falcons ended the first quarter out, gaining the Bears 98-29 and leading 9-0.

Baylor wide receiver Hal Presley (16) scores a touchdown after catching a pass from quarterback Blake Shapen (not shown) during the second quarter at the 2022 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 22, 2022 (Jeff Dahlia/fi360 news)

Baylor put together back-to-back drives equating to fifty-four yards. However, Baylor came up empty both times, with the drives ending with a punt near midfield and a missed thirty-eight-yard field goal by John Mayers (the kick was short and wide left), as the twenty-mile-per-hour winds weren’t doing the Bears any favors. “I was disappointed on a whole, offensively,” Baylor head coach Dave Aranda said after the game. “In previous games, there was more juice and excitement. I was way disappointed in the lack of that. I think it really starts with the run game. I could see Blake (Shapen) pressing, and there was a lot to improve on.”

After an Air Force drive that chewed up six and a half minutes and twenty-seven yards, Baylor took the field and managed the clock perfectly. Baylor went six plays and forty-seven yards in ninety-five seconds, ending with a Hal Pressley touchdown catch from Blake Shapen. It cut the Air Force lead to 9-7 at halftime.

Air Force running back Brad Roberts (20) dives through the hole created by the offensive line against Baylor in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Ft. Worth, Texas on Thursday December 22, 2022. Air Force won by a score of 30 to 15. (Photo by Laura Domingue/fi360 News)

Coming out of the break, it was a sixty-eight-yard pass from Daniels to Amari Terry to set up a two-yard score from Hazziq, putting the Falcons up 16-7 three minutes into the third quarter. “I thought (Haaziq Daniels) threw some strikes,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “The throw and touch he had on the touchdown. It never hurts that you can go four, that is something we are committed to doing, and defensively we embraced some of our versatility in things we are doing.” The sixty-eight-yard completion to Terry broke the Armed Forces Bowl record set by Navy in 2016 (Zach Abey to Darryl Bonner). Later in the quarter, it was a fifteen-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Rillos to extend the lead to 23-7. In the third quarter, Air Force outgained Baylor 165-13 in the quarter despite Baylor gaining good field position due to an eleven-yard punt setting them up in Falcons territory. The fourth quarter started the same way with five straight Brad Roberts runs, equaling a two-yard score to push the lead to 30-7. Baylor put together a scoring drive late with three completions totaling eighty-five yards (57 to Jaylen Ellis, 14 to Kelsey Johnson, and the touchdown catch by Gavin Holmes for 14 yards). Blake Shapen dove for the two-point conversion to cut the Falcons’ lead to 30-15. “The game was out of reach, and we were still out there fighting for a yard. We were able to come off the field excited, and that speaks for these guys,” Dave Aranda said on his Baylor team fighting until the end. However, Air Force ran down the clock for most of the three and a half minutes remaining and hoisted the Armed Forces Bowl victory. 

Air Force running back John Lee Eldridge III (24) is pursued by Baylor linebacker Garmon Randolph (55) in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Ft. Worth, Texas on Thursday December 22, 2022. Air Force won by a score of 30 to 15. (Photo by Laura Domingue/fi360 News)

Air Force’s 276 rushing yards were the most allowed by Baylor all season, surpassing November 5th’s win over Oklahoma, where the Sooners ran for 238 yards. Brad Roberts’ 37 rushing attempts also broke an Armed Forces Bowl record for carries, surpassing another Air Force alum, Jared Tew, in 2008 against Houston. Baylor also went 0 for 11 on third downs despite converting 3 for 6 on fourth downs. Air Force has now won ten or more games in three straight full seasons (2020 was a shortened schedule). Meanwhile, Baylor ends the year 6-7, coming off a Big 12 championship and a twelve-win season a year ago.