Perez Leads Air Force’s Ground Attack : Liberty Bowl: Senior quarterback runs for 114 yards and a touchdown in 38-15 victory over Mississippi State.
Air Force and senior quarterback Rob Perez gave Mississippi State a lesson in ball control.
The Falcons converted a 15-minute advantage in possession time into a 38-15 victory over the Bulldogs in the Liberty Bowl Sunday night.
“We took it to a pretty good defensive ball club,” said Perez, who was selected the game’s most valuable player after rushing 114 yards and a touchdown in 26 carries. “We ran down the field and put points on the board. We stuck the ball down their throats and won the game pretty handily.”
With Perez at the helm, the Falcons kept the ball for 37:37 to Mississippi State’s 22:23.
“This was a tremendous victory for the Falcons,” said Air Force Coach Fisher DeBerry after guiding his team to a 10-3 season. “To win 10 games in a season and to cap it off with a Liberty Bowl victory is just fantastic.
“I can’t say enough about this team and how they played--and not just tonight, but the entire season.”
The victory came in predictable fashion for the Falcons, the No. 2 rushing team in the country. The Falcons ran for 328 yards, only 10 below their regular-season average, and threw only two passes.
First-year Mississippi State Coach Jackie Sherrill said: “They did some things inside that gave us problems and then we got too far behind. They played their style of football and we just did not play ours.”
The Falcons built a 14-0 first-quarter lead on one-yard scoring runs by fullback Jason Jones and Perez.
On the kickoff after Jones’ touchdown, Mississippi State return man Tony James fumbled and Air Force kicker Joe Wood recovered. Perez scored six plays later.
Air Force pushed the lead to 21-0 on strong safety Shanon Yates’ 35-yard fumble return for a touchdown with 6:12 left in the first half.
Coming up to defend against the option, Yates arrived just as Mississippi State’s Karl Williamson bobbled a pitch from quarterback Sleepy Robinson. Yates grabbed the ball out of the air and raced uncontested to the end zone.
Mississippi State kept the game within reach by driving 76 yards for a touchdown after Yates’ fumble return, with Robinson passing four yards to Trenell Edwards to make it 21-7 with 35 seconds left in the first half.
The Falcons got only a 20-yard field goal from Wood in the third quarter but still dominated the period, controlling the ball for 13:12.
Wood’s field goal capped a 17-play drive that covered 67 yards and consumed 9:03.
The Falcons put the game away on the second play of the fourth quarter when Perez rolled left, drawing the Bulldog defense with him, and then handed off to wide receiver Scott Hufford on a reverse. Hufford wasn’t challenged as he skirted right end on a 31-yard touchdown run.
The Bulldogs pulled within 31-15 with 7:23 to play on a seven-yard burst up the middle by Michael Davis and Todd Jordan’s two-point pass to Robinson.
The Air Force defense got those points back 1:18 later when Chris James knocked the ball loose from Jordan and Virgil Simpson recovered in the end zone.
The victory before a record crowd of 61,497 was the second in a row for Air Force, the host team of the game the last three years. The Falcons beat Ohio State, 23-11, in last year’s game. In 1989, they lost to Mississippi, 42-29.
Mississippi State finished its first season under Sherrill with a 7-5 record. The Bulldogs had only one winning season (6-5 in 1986) in the past decade before this season. The Liberty Bowl was the school’s first postseason appearance since defeating Kansas, 10-0, in the 1981 Hall of Fame Bowl.