No. 20 Air Force 22, Rice 16JOHN MOSSMAN , Associated Press
Nov. 21, 1998 5:20 PM ET
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) _ Linebacker Mike Tyler returned an interception 26 yards for a touchdown with 8:23 remaining, and No. 20 Air Force rallied to beat Rice 22-16 on Saturday and claim a berth in the Western Athletic Conference championship game.
The Falcons (10-1 overall, 7-1 WAC) clinched the WAC's Mountain Division title and will meet Pacific champion Brigham Young for the league title on Dec. 5 in Las Vegas. BYU downed Utah 26-24 on Saturday.
Air Force, which erased a 10-0 first-half deficit, fell behind 16-14 early in the final quarter on freshman Derek Crabtree's third field goal of the game.
A subsequent Air Force possession led to a punt. But two plays later Tyler, who had left the game late in the third quarter after aggravating an injury to his right knee, picked off a pass from Chad Richardson and returned it down the left sideline for the clinching score.
Air Force lost quarterback Blane Morgan with a severely sprained right ankle with four minutes left in the opening period, but backup Cale Bonds played capably.
Rice (5-6, 5-3) scored on its first two possessions of the game and led 10-7 at intermission.
The Owls, who could have captured the division title with a victory over Air Force and a loss by Wyoming to Tulsa, took the opening kickoff and marched 76 yards in 16 plays for a touchdown. The drive consumed 9:15, the longest in coach Ken Hatfield's five seasons at Rice.
Richardson completed 14- and 16-yard passes to Jason Blackwell, and Jamie Tyler ran the final yard with 5:45 left in the opening period.
Four plays later, Morgan departed.
On Rice's next series, Blackwell got open deep and hauled in Richardson's 52-yard pass, setting up a 27-yard field goal by Crabtree on the second play of the second quarter for a 10-0 lead.
Bonds then drove the Falcons to the Rice 33, but the Falcons were stymied by a false-start penalty and an incomplete pass and punted.
Later in the quarter, Bonds led Air Force on a 17-play, 93-yard scoring drive that used up 7:17. Bonds passed 11 yards to Matt Farmer on third-and-10 and 20 yards to Dylan Newman on third-and-12, and Bonds then ran 19 yards. Fullback Spanky Gilliam plunged 1 yard for the TD with 1:08 left in the half.
The Falcons took the lead for the first time with a 74-yard march in the third period, capped by Bonds' 4-yard run with 6:38 to go. The big play came on third-and-9 from the Air Force 27 when Bonds passed 24 yards to halfback Qualario Brown, and a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty was tacked on.
Rice's Leroy Bradley then ran 25 yards to set up a 40-yard field goal, cutting the deficit to 14-13. Two plays later, Bonds was intercepted by safety LonDee Smith near midfield, and the Owls reclaimed the lead, 16-14, on Crabtree's 41-yarder with 12:19 left.