2011 Military Bowl: Is Air Force's Final-Minutes Conversion a Gutsy Call or Dumb

David LutherFeatured ColumnistDecember 29, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 28:  Bernard Reedy #11 of the Toledo Rockets rushes for a touchdown after catching a pass in front of Jamil Cooks #46 of the Air Force Falcons during the second half of the Military Bowl at RFK Stadium on December 28, 2011 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

In a game that saw 35 first-quarter points, Air Force never led during the entirety of the 2011 Military Bowl against Toledo, and a futile attempt to take the lead for the first time during the final minute backfired terribly.

In a thrill-a-minute game, the Falcons were forced to constantly respond to touchdown after touchdown by the Rockets. When Air Force again tied the game—this time with less than one minute remaining in the fourth quarter—Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun had decided he had seen enough. It was time to take the lead, once and for all.

Rather than kicking the tying extra point, the Falcons faked to an option run play.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 28: Asher Clark #17 of the Air Force Falcons dives over Diauntae Morrow #5 of the Toledo Rockets for a touchdown during the first half of the Military Bowl at RFK Stadium on December 28, 2011 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Car
Rob Carr/Getty Images

But as can often happen in such circumstances, a fumble spelled doom for the Falcons.

Toledo maintained a slim one-point lead, and a simple recovery of the ensuing kickoff capped off a 42-41 bowl victory for Toledo, it's first since the 2005 GoDaddy.com Bowl against UTEP. It was also Toledo's first nine-win season since 2005, while Air Force finishes with a 7-6 record—worst since 2006 (4-8).

Now, the inevitable debate will begin about Calhoun's decision. Should he have opted for such a gamble?

Such decisions are often made in the spur of the moment, but Calhoun has proven to be a cold, calculating coach on the Air Force sidelines.

Consider the following: Air Force had never led in the game, and had been chasing Toledo all day. Additionally, the Falcons had already allowed 42 points, raising some serious questions about their defense's ability to rein in a team averaging 42.2 points per game on the season.

If Air Force had kicked the extra point and played for overtime, there's some legitimate doubt as to whether or not the Falcons stood any better of a chance than a one shot, all-or-nothing play.

For Toledo, the much-needed bowl win wasn't just a victory for the Rockets, but will likely be celebrated throughout the Mid-American Conference.

For a conference that is frequently viewed by many of us as one of, if not the weakest in the nation, a big bowl win over a pretty good Air Force team in an exciting game is a much needed boost for fans of the MAC.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 28: Diauntae Morrow #5 and Desmond Marrow #3 of the Toledo Rockets hold up the championship trophy after the Rockets defeated the Air Force Falcons 42-41 to win the Military Bowl at RFK Stadium on December 28, 2011 in Washington,
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The MAC has had its share of problems over the years, and fan apathy in the 13-team conference is at an all-time high. Earlier this season, a MAC game between Eastern Michigan and Ball State drew just 3,288 fans—well below crowds seen at most FCS and Division II games. The conference has been hailed as everything from a “no defense” league to a repository for Big Ten rejects.

But Toledo showed that isn't the case against Air Force, scoring 42-or-more points for the eighth time this season. The win also gives the MAC their fourth team with nine or more wins this season.

In the end, perhaps another comeback was too much to ask of the young Air Force cadets. The Falcons had already come back from 14 points down—twice—to tie the game.

Should Calhoun simply ordered a simple extra-point kick? Would Air Force have fared better in overtime? We'll never know.

But there is one thing that's certain; had the conversion succeeded, Calhoun would have been trumped as one of the gutsiest Air Force football heroes.