Air Force grounds out 31-21 win over No. 24 James Madison in the Armed Forces Bowl

Air Force (9-4) posted its fifth consecutive bowl win after losing its last four games of the season.

FORT WORTH, Texas — Emmanuel Michel rushed for a career-best 203 yards and two 1-yard touchdowns and Zac Larrier passed for one TD and ran for another score, leading Air Force to a 31-21 win over No. 24 James Madison in the Armed Forces Bowl on Saturday.

Air Force (9-4) posted its fifth consecutive bowl win after losing its last four games of the season.

“To be able to win four straight bowl wins in our time here, it’s just a big deal,” said Michel, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound senior who left the academy early in the year and returned for the fall semester.

James Madison (11-2) lost in regulation for the first time this season while playing in the program’s first bowl game. The Dukes, who are completing their transition to the FBS level from FCS after being a two-time national champion in the lower division, earned the bowl berth after there weren’t enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all the spots.

Air Force’s triple-option running attack got the better of the top run defense in the FBS. The Falcons entered second in team rushing at 275.8 yards per game, and ground out 351 yards in the victory. JMU came in allowing 61.5 rushing yards, with a high of 146 yards.

“Bring it and let us show you what we’ve got,” said Michel, who burst up the middle for 54 yards on Air Force’s first offensive play.

James Madison gained 283 total yards — only 26 rushing.

“I’m frustrated at the loss, I’m proud of the team, aggravated at our execution at times,” said JMU acting head coach Damian Wroblewski, who took over after head coach Curt Cignetti left for Indiana on Nov. 30.

Michel scored midway through the first and second quarters. His second gave Air Force the lead for good at 14-7 following an interception by Johnathan Young at midfield after Dukes quarterback Jordan McCloud faced a heavy blitz and flipped an opposite-hand pass up for grabs.

Larrier tossed a 42-yard TD pass to Jared Roznos with 27 seconds remaining in the first half and scored from a yard out in the third quarter.

Matthew Dapore kicked a 26-yard field goal, capping a 17-play, 49-yard drive and giving Air Force a 31-14 lead.

Michel, Larrier and Roznos all missed games late in the season because of injuries.

McCloud threw three TD passes for the Dukes. He hit Phoenix Sproles with scoring passes of 18 and 7 yards, and tossed a 5-yard TD pass to Kaelon Black.

McCloud finished 20 for 33 for 257 yards with an interception.

GREAT FINISH FOR FALCONS’ RICHTER

Senior linebacker Bo Richter had three sacks, all after halftime, and 4½ tackles for losses.

“They kept saying on the headset ‘Bo doesn’t like sacks’ ’cause I kept missing them in the first half,” Richter said. “Second half, I had to go out and get a couple.”

CALL IT MILITARY DISCIPLINE

The Falcons committed no penalties. They went into play ranked third in FBS, averaging only 3.25 flags per game.

WISH YOU WERE HERE

JMU had two starters leave via the transfer portal before game day (guard Carter Miller and defensive end Mikail Kamara). Then minutes before kickoff, starting rover Chris Chukwuneke posted on social media that he wouldn’t play because of personal reasons.

“You’d like to have all of your bullets, but that’s not the case,” Wroblewski said. “That’s the way life goes.”

THE TAKEAWAY

James Madison: The Dukes finished first in the Sun Belt East both seasons while prohibited from playing for the conference championship.

Air Force: Consistency remains the key to the program under Troy Calhoun, with 12 winning seasons, 13 bowls, and eight bowl wins – including the last two Armed Forces Bowls – in his 17 seasons at the helm.

James Madison: Bob Chesney, hired from Holy Cross, will make his debut as Dukes coach at Charlotte on Aug. 31.

Air Force: The Falcons, seeking their first Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy since 2016, open at home against FCS Merrimack on Aug. 31.

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