Air Force Academy junior running back Kadin Remsberg hit a dead sprint as he raced his way toward the end zone on December 28.
Remsberg, who finished Friday’s Cheez-It Bowl with 178 rushing yards on 26 carries, earned the hardest three feet of the night on that play, stretching his right arm toward the pylon.
That determination and effort would prevail in the end, as Remsberg’s touchdown stood, and the Air Force Falcons (11-2, 7-1) clinched their first bowl win since 2016, beating the Washington State Cougars, 31-21.
Remsberg laid out his mindset ahead of his fourth quarter touchdown, with a determination and zeal to hit paydirt once he got the ball in his hands on the play.
“My coaches are telling me getting the edge is probably the best thing to do, try and use my speed,” Remsberg said. “But I got my blockers out there. Seeing these guys doing their best to get me on the perimeter, and I knew I had to score.
So, I was going to do everything I could to get in the end zone.”
Remsberg and the Falcons led wire-to-wire in front of an announced crowd of 34,105 fans at Chase Field in Downtown Phoenix.
Their fate was sealed when the junior back out from Newton, Kansas, scored that final touchdown, as the Cougars were left with too much ground to gain and too little time to do so.
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun broke down his team’s performance postgame, with the Falcons ground-and-pound offense doing what it needed to do to chew up clock and keep the opposing Cougars off the field.
Calhoun’s team set a new Cheez-It Bowl record for time of possession on Friday, holding the ball for 43:24 of game time, while the Cougars possessed it for 16:36.
“The game itself, it kind of worked in a way that we wanted it to, at least in the sense we were able to come up with some key stops inside the 10-yard line. And then offensively being able to make some first downs and being able to stay on the field to try to limit — we didn’t want to be in a track meet. I think we did a good job in that regard.
Washington State coach Mike Leach lambasted his defense for its inability to stop the Falcons, calling them out for failing to keep their opponents out of the end zone.
The key to Leach was the unit’s tentative nature towards stopping Air Force’s triple option offense, instead of stepping up and making plays when needed.
“Pretty much, in the first half I thought was playing not to lose,” Leach said. “And if you can disrupt the offensive line then you’ll have more opportunity. If you spend too much time drawing moral victories from the fact that you tackled somebody and they didn’t make explosive plays, that’s not enough. Moral victories come when you keep them out of the end zone.”
Leach summed up the four-year tenure that seniors, like quarterback Anthony Gordon, finished off in Pullman, reaching bowl games in each of those seasons, while rewriting the school’s record book in the process.
Gordon, who was not made available to speak with the assembled media on Friday night, finished with 351 passing yards, completing 28-of-42 passes. The senior finished his final collegiate season with 5,579 passing yards and 48 passing touchdowns, both of with are Pac-12 Conference single season records.
Leach congratulated the team’s elder statesmen, while stopping short of coronating them on their many achievements on the gridiron.
“I felt like we had the opportunity to be better this season,” Leach said. “…These guys, there’s guys on this team that were a part of us going to five bowls, which has never happened in the history of the school. So, their service to our program is something I’ll forever be grateful for.
But, no, I thought you got to keep pushing the envelope. I thought we were capable of more, and we’re going to do everything we can to achieve that as we go into our offseason.”
A fitting ending
Calhoun closed his portion of the evening’s press conference by remarking on how important it is for the Falcons to win bowl games in states like Arizona, which have a large military presence.
Calhoun remarked that it was fitting that his team won its last two bowl games, in the 2016 Arizona Bowl in Tucson and Friday’s Cheez-It Bowl in Phoenix, given the demographics of the two cities.
“I’ll say this about this state, just how receptive they are to our servicemembers, whether it’s at Davis-Monthan; down at Huachuca and then certainly here on the west side of Phoenix. this is a remarkable area,” Calhoun said. “The patriotism and the support that they provide to our service members, that’s heartfelt. It truly is for our enlisted crew, our officers, but probably every bit would be the family members that come from the Air Force.”
Remsberg acknowledged that many of the Falcons players take some level of delight in slaying Power Five programs like Washington State.
The Air Force roster, which is full of undersized and often overlooked players, continues to show what it’s capable of, according to Remsberg, with Friday’s contest being their latest conquest.
“I think it just shows that we are a great football team. And the work that we put in, it’s fruitful,” Remsberg said. “A lot of us do have a chip on our shoulder, I think. And to be able to have this season go the way it did, it’s amazing. It’s an amazing feeling.”
(Photo by Pablo Robles)