The Bulldogs faked a field goal, but holder Jason Simpson's pass to Giachino Chiaramonte fell incomplete in the end zone and Air Force claimed the inaugural Silicon Valley Classic on Sunday.
Fresno State had practiced the fake, knowing Air Force's kick-blocking abilities. When the Falcons put two jumpers linebackers Corey Nelson and Kevin Runyon in the middle, the play was called.
"We just didn't make the play, and, if anything, we just ran out of time," coach Pat Hill said.
Just before the fake, Fresno State's David Carr spiked the ball on third-and-7 and called a timeout. Hill said the spike was a miscommunication.
It could have given the Bulldogs an edge, however, because Air Force put all its focus on the kick and left Chiaramonte and another receiver open. Simpson's pass simply went too long.
Fresno State had climbed back from a 34-7 halftime deficit, but couldn't quite overcome the Falcons' first-half outburst.
Mike Thiessen hit Scotty McKay with two touchdown passes, and ran for two more scores all in the first half. Thiessen completed 12 of 24 passes for 204 yards.
Dave Adams added field goals of 37, 46 and 24 yards for Air Force, which finished the season 9-3.
Carr completed 22 of 33 passes for 291 yards and five touchdowns. But Fresno State (7-5) appeared unprepared for all the passing from the option-oriented Falcons.
Thiessen threw on the first play from scrimmage, and hit Brian LaBasco with a season-long 35-yard pass on the same drive. Adams kicked a 37-yard field goal to cap the series.
Fresno State took over, but not for long. Carr's pass wa intercepted by Joel Buelow. A play later, Thiessen found McKay with a 29-yard touchdown pass to put the Falcons up 10-0.
Thiessen threw for 1,687 yards during the regular season, the most for an Air Force quarterback since 1969. He had 13 touchdown passes, along with 10 scoring runs.
Adams added a 46-yard field goal the longest kicked by Air Force in a bowl game with 3:06 left in the first quarter to put the Falcons ahead 13-0.
Rodney Wright's fumble on Fresno State's own 14 gave the ball back to the Falcons, and Thiessen hit McKay with a 13-yard scoring pass. A 2-point conversion attempt failed.
Fresno State finally got on the board with a 73-yard touchdown pass from Carr to Paris Gaines with 23 second left in the opening quarter. It was the longest reception of Gaines' career.
Air Force opened the second quarter with Thiessen's 1-yard touchdown run to go up 26-7.
Thiessen also ran 9 yards for a touchdown with 1:06 left in the first half. Again the Falcons tried the conversion, and this time it worked: Thiessen's pass to Chris Jessop gave Air Force a 34-7 lead.
Fresno State mounted a comeback in the second half. The Bulldogs took a chance on fourth-and-2 in the third quarter and Carr's completion to Alec Greco in the end zone made it 34-14.
After Adams booted his 24-yard field goal for Air Force, Carr threw an 8-yard scoring pass to Donnell Burch to narrow the margin to 37-20. It was Burch's first career reception.
Adams attempted a 30-yard field goal with 10:47 left in the game, but Fresno State's Terence Brown blocked the kick. That set up a scoring drive that ended with Carr's 47-yard pass to Bernard Berrian.
Berrian caught a 51-yard pass from Carr a little more than three minutes later, and the crowd mostly Fresno State fans went wild.
"We searched and searched in the first half, trying to figure out why we weren't moving the ball. Then we just started to make some big plays," Carr said. "The second half, we just seemed to have the right plays called at the right time."
Air Force finished the season ranked ninth in the country in total offense with 451.9 yards per game. On Sunday, the Falcons had 471 yards of total offense.
Air Force leads the overall series against Fresno State 4-2.
In their last bowl appearance two seasons ago, the Falcons beat Washington 45-25 in the Oahu Bowl.
It was Fresno State's second straight bowl loss. The Bulldogs fell to Utah 17-16 in the EA Sports Las Vegas Bowl last season.
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