Washington State was eager to erase the taste of a seventh consecutive Apple Cup loss to Washington. Turns out that cheese wasn’t much of a palate cleanser.
In the few times they had the ball, the Cougars didn’t do much with it, falling 31-21 (box) to the Air Force Academy at the Cheez-It Bowl at Phoenix’s Chase Field.
That left WSU with a 6-7 record, its first losing season since 2014, and the Pac-12 Conference with a second bowl defeat Friday night, following USC’s 49-24 collapse earlier Friday at the Holiday Bowl to Iowa — the Trojans’ biggest bowl loss since 1948.
In the matchup of contrasting offenses, 24th-ranked Air Force’s triple-option won evening with 371 yards on 69 rushing attempts that helped consume more than 43 minutes of the clock. The Cougars’ Air Raid offense could afford no errors, but twice was stopped in the red zone on fourth down and also had an interception.
The Cougars’ record run of five consecutive bowl appearances now includes three losses.
The opening drive told all, in a masterpiece demonstration of the academy’s Flexbone. After a goal-line stand by the defense gave the offense the ball at their own 2-yard line, the Mountain West Conference runners-up (11-2) took 20 plays and 12 minutes, 23 seconds to go 98 yards, finishing with a one-yard touchdown run by QB Donald Hammond III.
Fast forward to four minutes remaining with a 24-21 lead, Air Force went 60 yards for the decisive score on a three-yard dive on fourth down at the end zone pylon by Kadin Remsberg. He finished with 178 yards rushing.
In the final game of his lone starting season, Cougars QB Anthony Gordon threw for 351 yards (28 of 42), finishing with a WSU and Pac-12 single-season record of 5,579 yards. His three TD passes gave him a school and conference-record 48. He finished with 5,559 yards of total offense, breaking the conference record of Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.
But the same defense that blew a record 32-point lead against UCLA could not solve the triple option. The Falcons entered the game with four players with at least 400 yards rushing, including Hammond.
LB Jahad Woods made a WSU bowl-game record 20 tackles for 141, fifth-most in WSU single-season history. It was the first 20-tackle game since Brandon Moore had 20 at Arizona State in 1997.