Air Force held a 23-17 lead early in the final quarter when it was forced to punt. Western Michigan, which had gone 92-yards on nine plays for a TD on its previous possession, got good field position when it started its ensuing drive at the WMU 47.
Three plays later, however, Broncos quarterback Zach Terrell was flushed from the pocket and fumbled trying to get around the right side. Walker picked up the bouncing ball while on the run and took it to the end zone. A successful two-point conversion provided the Falcons with a 31-17 lead with 9:52 remaining.
When the Falcons recovered an onside kick, they held onto the ball the rest of the way.
The two teams were very close in total yardage, with WMU holding a 376-361 edge. Air Force owned a 20-17 advantage in first downs, with two coming on its final drive to run out the clock.
As usual, AF piled up most of its yards on the ground. It rushed the ball 64 times for 284 yards. Sophomore Shane Davern led the way with 101 yards on 12 carries (8.4 ypc). Just over half of his total came on a 55-yard second quarter touchdown that put the AFA in front for good. He had two scores on the day. D.J. Johnson added 83 yards with one TD and Pearson chipped in 41 yards out of the quarterback position.
Pearson, a 5-9 senior, tossed just nine passes, completing five for 77 yards. Sophomore Jalen Robinette led the Falcon receiving corps with two catches for 43 yards.
Western Michigan, which normally is capable of doing significant damage with its own run game, got most of its production against Air Force from the passing game.
All-MAC freshman running back Jarvion Franklin was limited to 26 yards on 12 carries. Terrell had 11 rushes for 61 yards, but WMU netted just 79 yards total on the ground. Terrell’s fumble was the only Western Michigan turnover of the game.
All three Bronco touchdowns came through the air and went from Terrell to Davis.
Terrell completed 19-of-38 for 297 yards with no interceptions and the three TDs. The three passing scores tied a school bowl record set by Alex Carder in the 2011 Little Caesar’s Bowl.
Davis, who earned Western Michigan MVP honors for the contest, totaled eight catches for 176 yards and his three TDs. The latter tied a WMU bowl game mark.
Western Michigan took an early lead thanks, in part, to the AFA’s only turnover of the game. That came on the first play from scrimmage when Rontavicious Atakins recovered a fumble by Rushing at the Falcons 30-yard line.
WMU picked up one first down but was facing a 4th-and-2 when it called upon Andrew Haldeman. He converted a 25-yard field goal to give WMU one of its two leads in the game.
Davern opened scoring for Air Force with a one-yard run at 5:24 of the opening period, but the PAT failed.
WMU went back out front with a 47-yard TD reception early in the second period. Air Force, however, scored two more times before intermission. The first was Davern’s 55-yard jaunt. Rushing completed a 15-play, 80-yard drive with a one-yard run to make it 20-10 at the break.
Will Conant’s 31-yard field goal was the only score of the third period, raising the Falcons advantage to 23-10.
Terrell found Davis on a 35-yard pass to complete a 92-yard Bronco drive early in the final period. WMU’s next possession ended with Walker’s fumble recovery and TD return.
The contest featured two programs with huge rebound seasons in 2014. Western Michigan finished at 8-5 after going 1-11 in head coach P.J. Fleck’s first season (2013). Air Force posted a 2-10 record last year and completed 2014 with a 10-3 mark. That gives the Falcons the distinction of being the only team since 2010 Miami (Ohio) to go from double digit losses to double digit wins in one season.