Friday, December 23, 2016
Louisiana Tech: 2016 Armed Forces Bowl Champions
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Louisiana Tech senior quarterback Ryan Higgins was bawling like a baby even before Jonathan Barnes' game-ending kick went through the uprights to win the Armed Forces Bowl.
"As soon as (the holder) put the ball down, I felt like the kick was money," Higgins said. "Each person that I hugged after that, it was just getting worse and worse. .... I just couldn't be happier to send my class and this team out on a high note."
Higgins threw for 409 yards and four touchdowns, two each to Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson, and Barnes' 32-yard field goal broke the game's fourth tie as the Bulldogs beat Navy 48-45 on Friday.
"Excellent win would be an understatement," coach Skip Holtz said.
"If you want to be a kicker, you live for that," Barnes said. "I'm lucky to be able to share it with a bunch of guys that are like my brothers."
The Bulldogs (9-5) drove for the winning score after Navy freshman quarterback Malcolm Perry ran 30 yards for a touchdown on his only play. Higgins was then 4 -for 4 for 58 yards on the final drive.
Navy (9-5), which was trying for its first consecutive 10-win seasons, instead ended with its third straight loss. The Midshipmen lost the American Athletic Conference title game before its first loss to Army since 2001.
"They made a few more plays than we did," coach Ken Niumatalolo said.
Taylor, the 5-foot-8 senior, set an Armed Forces Bowl record with his 12 catches for 233 yards, including a 51-yard TD just before halftime for a 31-24 lead, and joined Troy Edwards as the only Bulldogs with more than 4,000 career receiving yards. Henderson, a junior had 10 catches for 129 yards and finished this season with 19 TDs.
Perry, whose TD with 3:46 left tied the game at 45-45, came in after Zach Abey took a shot to the ribs on a play that led to a targeting ejection by Tech defensive tackle Jordan Bradford.
Abey, who made only his second start, ran for 114 yards and two scores and threw for 159 yards and another touchdown.
Louisiana Tech: The Conference USA runner-up Bulldogs won their third straight bowl and reached nine wins for the third consecutive season, the first time as a Division I team to do that. After falling behind 21-17 early in the second quarter, the Bulldogs regained the lead on Henderson's 3-yard TD and never trailed again.
Navy: After being held to 270 yards rushing in the previous two losses, this was more like the Midshipmen triple-option offense. They had 459 total yards, 300 on the ground. Even so, it was a bitter end for Navy, which had won three straight bowl games -- a streak that started with an Armed Forces Bowl victory three years ago.
The Midshipmen's 70 yards on penalties (seven) were their most under Niumatalolo. "We've been coaching nine years and we led the country in the least amount of penalties. I told those (officials) after this game we would be leading the country," he said. "I thought there were a lot of bad calls." Jarid Ryan had an apparent third-down interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter that was instead called pass interference.
Both of Henderson's TDs were short (3 and 4 yards) and impressive. On his 3-yarder in the first half, he made a two-handed grab over the defender and got both feet in bounds. With just over 4 minutes left in the game, he had a leaping 4-yard catch when he reached around with his right hand for the catch in the back corner of the end zone.
The 93 combined points made for the highest-scoring Armed Forces Bowl, surpassing California's 55-36 win over Air Force last year. ... Navy's Chris High twice had tying TD runs (24 yards and 9 yards ) on long Navy drives in the second half.
Louisiana Tech: After Higgins became the third senior Bulldogs QB in as many seasons to throw for more than 3,000 yards, sophomore J'Mar Smith could be starting when the Bulldogs open next season against Northwestern State. WR Taylor will be gone, but Henderson has another season of eligibility and could be a prime target.
Navy: The Midshipmen go into the offseason with their first losing streak since they had a three-game slide in the 2014 season. They have a long wait before their first chance to snap that streak, in the 2017 opener at Florida Atlantic on Sept. 2.