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In nearly record-setting frigid conditions, Air Force was simply built for it

Air Force skated by Baylor, 30-15, in a 2022 Armed Forces Bowl which saw beyond freezing conditions and high winds.

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl - Baylor v Air Force Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

The 1958 Bluegrass Bowl and the 1983 Liberty Bowl share a distinction that no bowl would prefer to be on its résumé. Those two games are tied for the coldest bowl game in college football history in terms of kickoff temperature, and each marinated in 12-degree Fahrenheit weather.

The sport proceeded for nearly 40 years without replicating that frigid feat, but that record definitely had to be monitored in Fort Worth, TX on Thursday night in anticipation for the 2022 Armed Forces Bowl. However, the Armed Forces Bowl matchup between Air Force and Baylor missed the record by one single degree. When Air Force kicked off to Baylor around 6:30 p.m. local time, the official temperature stood at 13 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine those below-frozen conditions with winds murmuring at 22 miles per hour, and that creates a setting that “feels like” -8 degrees.

“It wasn’t really that bad because every day walking to class, it’s as cold as that, if not colder,” Air Force strong safety Jayden Goodwin said. “I’m kind of used to it at this point. I don’t think the other team was.”

Camera crews, videographers, and cheerleaders rotated between the warmer tunnel and the frozen field like hockey shifts, due to the unbearableness of the on-field conditions. Icicles even formed in the bells of clarinets belonging to Baylor band members, and because of the toll the temperatures took on the instruments, the band resorted to singing their stand tunes instead of playing them. The heavy gusts of south winds kept the stadium flags elongated throughout the duration of the contest. As Air Force quarterback Haaziq Daniels bluntly stated in his press conference when asked about the conditions, “It was cold.”

“My hands were freezing,” Daniels said. “All the staff did a good job of making sure we had coats on on the sideline and we had those heated seats. But it was still cold regardless. It was definitely tough.”

In the matchup between Air Force and Baylor, “cold” certainly favored one squad over the other. Air Force entered Thursday night decisively leading the country in rushing attempts and rushing yards, while ranked dead last in passing attempt and passing yards. The conditions certainly favored the ability for an option-based offense to thrive, and the Falcons took full advantage with 276 yards on 67 attempts — generating three touchdowns on the ground.

Keeping Baylor honest, the Falcons tested the air several times much to the delight of head coach Troy Calhoun and his staff. Daniels completed 4-of-7 passes for 103 yards, utilizing a favorable wind direction to deliver a 68-yard air line drive to Amari Terry in the third quarter to distance the Falcons from the Bears on the scoreboard. All four of his completions, including a 15-yard touchdown strike, traveled in accordance with the wind. And despite Baylor testing the air on nearly 50 percent of its plays, the teams were tied at 103 passing yards apiece until the Bears’ final full possession of the night.

“It was a little bit of the wind factor. I didn’t want to leave it hanging in the air too much,” Daniels said on his 68-yard completion. “There was a pass later in the game I tried to loft a little bit and I felt like the wind took it a little bit.”

Air Force’s preparation for the conditions was deeper than just its offensive philosophy. The Falcons traveled to Fort Worth with one of nine FBS defenses surrendering under 100 rushing yards per contest. By cutting off the run in the frozen setting, Air Force forced Baylor to pass repeatedly — especially due to stifling the Bears into a litany of third-and-long situations. Baylor completed just 11-of-23 passing attempts in the defeat.

“Disappointed on a whole offensively,” Baylor head coach Dave Aranda said. “I think it really starts with the run game. That’s really the identity of the offense, and really, our team. I don’t think we held up to our side of the bargain, and I could see (quarterback) Blake (Shapen) pressing and it just kind of fell apart from there. Very bad ending, and I’m disappointed in that. There’s a lot to improve on.”

Baylor only accumulated 55 rushing yards on 24 carries when excluding the Falcons’ two sacks, amounting to 2.3 yards per run. Facing undesirable distances on repeated third down opportunities, Baylor couldn’t convert a single one and finished 0-of-11 in that critical category.

“We gotta give big credit to the play-calling,” Goodwin said. “We were in the right spot a lot of times. Our effort to the ball was good as well, and we didn’t miss a lot of tackles either. There’s some talk sometimes about the amount that we’re actually on the field, but if you go 0-for-11 on third down, every time we’re on the field, we get a stop, so that’s pretty good.”

The Armed Forces Bowl held the trophy ceremony at warp speed due to the desire of all parties to exit the arctic conditions immediately. But an extended Air Force celebration ensued in the locker room, earning its signature 10th victory in an atmosphere unlike it had ever played before.

“I couldn’t feel my hands. I couldn’t feel my face. And I can’t believe we got 10 wins again,” Goodwin said.

By emerging triumphant over Baylor to improve its bowl win streak to four, Air Force can claim its third double-digit win season in a four-year span. This is the first occurrence of that accomplishment in service academy history.

“To be real, we’re not headed in a direction,” Calhoun said. “This senior class has won at least 10 games three different seasons, and it’s the only time it’s ever happened. Service academy football’s been played for collectively 300 years. Will we ever see that again? We may not. To be real about it, Jayden’s gonna tell me, ‘Coach, easy here.’ But it may be an anomaly, to be candid.”