Air Force and Houston went to halftime tied at 17 after a wild first half filled with big plays, big mistakes and multiple momentum swings.
Air Force fumbled away the opening kickoff, lost another fumble deep in its own territory, missed a short field goal and failed on a fourth down.
But the Falcons’ got 95 rushing yards from fullback Jared Tew (already a career-high) and a solid performance from its defense. Air Force limited the high-powered Cougars, who came into the game leading the nation in yards per game (575.1), to just 163 yards and nine first downs.
Both teams missed opportunities thanks to strange turns of events. The Falcons’ Ryan Harrison appeared to have given Air Force a 20-17 lead when he made a 55-yard field goal late with less than a minute to play in the first half, but Houston coach Kevin Sumlin had called timeout just before the play. Harrison had to try the field goal again, and he missed it.
Houston then drove deep into Air Force territory and had first down from the Falcons’ 14-yard line with eight seconds left. The Cougars called timeout and then attempted one more play. But receiver Tyron Carrier was tackled in bounds at the 2 as time expired.
Air Force senior Spencer Armstrong, who had not played since the teams’ first meeting on Sept. 13, returned the game’s opening kickoff 21 yards but fumbled. Houston recovered on the Air Force 25-yard line and needed just four plays to score.
Air Force responded with a six-play, 77-yard drive that Tew capped with a 2-yard plunge for a score. Houston drove 65 yards for a score on its next possession and, late in the first quarter, recovered a fumble at the Air Force 14-yard line to set up a field goal.
Down 17-7, Air Force opened the second quarter by driving 76 yards in 12 plays for a score – quarterback Tim Jefferson’s 5-yard run. Air Force had field goal tries on its next three possessions but made just one of them.