1971 Sugar Bowl
|1971 Sugar Bowl|
|Date||January 1, 1971|
|Location||New Orleans, Louisiana|
|MVP||QB Bobby Scott (Tennessee)|
|Favorite||Tennessee by 10|
|United States TV coverage|
|Announcers||Chris Schenkel and Bud Wilkinson|
The Falcons were an NCAA independent in their first Sugar Bowl under long tenured Ben Martin. In his 13th year, he had a 68–57–7 record and made Air Force into national prominence and led the team to a ranking in the AP Poll for the second time in school history. However, the then #10-ranked Falcons lost their final game, 49–19, to Colorado at Colorado Springs after beating Pacific-8 Conference champion Stanford, who later beat Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.
Tennessee from #8 at the time of the invite to #4 under the leadership of 29-year old rookie coach Bill Battle, a member of the national champion 1961 Alabama Crimson Tide football team. This was the Vols' fifth Sugar Bowl appearance and first since the 1957 game. The Vols rolled over Alabama 24–0 at Knoxville in October and gained revenge for a 38–0 loss in 1969 to Ole Miss in November, but an early loss to Auburn in Birmingham wound up costing Tennessee the Southeastern Conference championship, which instead went to LSU.
The game was a match of offense vs defense. Air Force averaged 423.6 yards in offense, while Tennessee surrendered only 88.4 yards on defense.
Quarterback Bobby Scott summed the game up with a quote after the game: "We had the momentum going." The Volunteers, not fooled by Air Force's eight man line, drove 59 yards in 2 minutes and 45 seconds and culminated with a Don McLeary touchdown. It only grew worse for the Falcons as they fumbled on their ensuing drive, as the Vols added in a field goal by George Hunt soon after. Following an Air Force punt, the Vols drove down the field once again, driving 58 yards that culminated in McLeary's 2nd touchdown. A fumble by Air Force gave the ball back to the Vols at the Falcons' own 24. Four plays later, Scott passed to Gary Theiler for a touchdown. By this point, 3:12 was left in the first period, and it was 28–0. Air Force did later score in the quarter, happening on a fumble recovery by Darryl Hass in the endzone on a bad snap while the Vols were in their own territory. The second quarter went scoreless, as the demoralized Falcons trailed 24-7. The third quarter turned out to be worse. Bobby Majors returned an Air Force punt 57 yards for a touchdown. Air Force added in a measly touchdown later in the quarter, but by that point it was 31-13, and Hunt added in his second field goal to make the final score 34–13.
Air Force has not returned to the Sugar Bowl or any other bowl sponsored by the Bowl Championship Series and its successor, the College Football Playoff. Tennessee has returned twice, 1986 and 1991, where they defeated the Miami Hurricanes and the Virginia Cavaliers, respectively.