Cal added to its first winning season in three years under head coach Sonny Dykes, and it was the program’s first bowl appearance since a 7-6 mark in 2011. That appearance was won because of an explosive performance from quarterback Jared Goff.
The Bears (8-5) traded touchdowns early with Air Force (8-5) before pulling away for a 55-36 victory Tuesday in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl Tuesday at TCU’s Amon Carter Stadium in Fort Worth.
Goff set a Pac-12 record for passing yardage, which is no easy task at a school known for turning out quarterbacks. He finished 25 of 37 for 467 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions.
The score was tied 14-14 early in the second quarter before Goff finished the period hitting three touchdown passes for a 35-21 halftime lead.
He connected on a 5-yard pass to Darius Powe, a 24-yarder to Kenny Lawler and a 14-yarder, again to Lawler.
Cal took the second half kickoff and added another touchdown when Goff hit Powe with a 12-yard TD pass. Goff’s final TD pass was 25-yarder to Lawler with 17 seconds left in the third quarter for a 52-29 lead.
Bryce Treggs caught Goff’s first touchdown pass in the first quarter. He finished the day with four receptions for 143 yards.
— Today's U (@TodaysUSports) December 29, 2015
Lawler caught five for 75 with his three TDs, Powe, four receptions for 70 yards and two touchdowns and Maurice Harris four balls for 67 yards.
Air Force started the game the way it needed – but only on offense. The Falcons took the opening kickoff and drove 11 plays and 68 yards for a touchdown on a 1-yard run by Jacobi Owens. The drive consumed 6:27 before Cal’s offense saw the field.
But fortunes took a 180-degree turn on Air Force on Cal’s third offensive play.
Junior Weston Steelhammer, the Falcons’ leading tackler and a two-time All-Mountain West safety, was ejected from the game for a targeting hit on pass coverage of an incomplete attempt.
With Cal running back Tre Watson having broken off a 32-yard gain the previous play, the 15-yard penalty on Steelhammer gave the Bears a first down at the Falcons’ 14-yard line.
Cal tied the game 7-7 four plays later on Vic Enware’s 1-yard run.
Air Force’s season included the highlight of winning the Mountain West Mountain Division title, but the Falcons ended the season on a three-game losing streak. They lost their regular-season finale to New Mexico, which cost them the home-field advantage in the Mountain West championship game that San Diego State won on its home field at Qualcomm Stadium.
Cal out-gained Air Force 586 yards to 484, although Air Force managed a slight time of possession advantage with 31:07. But the Falcons needed to control the ball longer to make a difference and keep the ball out of Goff’s hot hand.
Jacobi Owens led Air Force with 19 carries for 83 yards and one touchdown, and quarterback Karson Roberts carried 16 times for 69 yards and one touchdown. Jalen Robinette caught five passes for 69 yards and one touchdown.
Combined with Navy’s 48-24 win over Pitt in the Military Bowl presented by Northrup Grumann, the service academies went 1-1 against Power 5 schools.