Derek Carr got so much enjoyment from leading Fresno State to its first conference title in 13 seasons, the junior quarterback decided to stick around.
Carr completed 28 of 32 passes for 452 yards and four touchdowns, two of them to Davante Adams, as Fresno State thrashed Air Force 48-15 on Saturday to earn a share of the Mountain West Conference championship.
Carr threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to Adams on the Bulldogs’ second play from scrimmage and less than 2 minutes later hooked up with Isaiah Burse for a 36-yard score. Marcel Jensen added two 1-yard touchdown catches.
After the game, while clutching the MWC championship trophy and wearing a championship hat, Carr announced he would return for his senior year. The younger brother of David Carr, the former Fresno State quarterback and No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 NFL draft, Derek has passed for 3,742 yards this season with 36 touchdowns and five interceptions.
“Hard work does pay off,” Carr said. “When it comes to fruition like this, when you get to hold this trophy and get to wear this hat, you know you’ve done something right.
“I’m going to enjoy this, but we’ve still got one more (game) to go. We haven’t won double-digit games in a while.”
Completing a remarkable turnaround under first-year coach Tim DeRuyter, the Bulldogs (9-3, 7-1) share the MWC title with San Diego State, a 42-28 winner over Wyoming on Saturday. Boise State can make it a three-way split by defeating Nevada next Saturday.
Fresno State, whose 4-9 record last year resulted in the dismissal of longtime coach Pat Hill, has not won 10 games since 2001 – David Carr’s senior season.
“We set this goal in the beginning of the year and worked our butts off,” said Bulldogs safety Phillip Thomas, a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award for the nation’s best defensive back. “Whether I win the Thorpe or not, you can’t take this (MWC championship) trophy away from me.”
Besides his first career touchdown pass, Robbie Rouse finished with 106 rushing yards – the 21st time in his career Fresno State’s all-time leading rusher surpassed 100 yards. Burse had 158 receiving yards, and Adams added 141 to increase his MWC-leading season total to 1,168.
Cody Getz had 82 rushing yards, and Jon Lee added 52 for Air Force (6-6, 5-3), which finished with 254 rushing yards compared to 63 passing. The Falcons came in averaging 335.5 yards on the ground.
Kale Peterson replaced Connor Dietz at quarterback for Air Force in the second half. Not for performance but for what coach Troy Calhoun termed an “accumulation” of bumps and bruises.
“That’s a good team we played,” Calhoun said. “I thought athletically, especially in the open field, I thought there were some plays where they made some pretty dynamic things happen.”
Fresno State last won a conference title in 1999, when the Bulldogs shared the Western Athletic Conference championship with TCU and Hawaii.
While Fresno State likely is bound for either the Hawaii or Las Vegas bowls, Air Force already has accepted an invitation to the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 29 in Dallas.
Fresno State’s first three drives all resulted in touchdowns thanks to Carr’s accurate deep throws, receivers that were taller and faster than Air Force’s secondary and a defense that continually forced the Falcons into third-and-long.
Carr completed 18 of 20 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns in the first half as the Bulldogs rolled up 326 yards of offense while producing a 31-7 halftime lead.
“Athletically, those are extraordinary players,” Calhoun said of Fresno State’s receivers. “They’re going to complete balls, but you need to be able to limit the yards after a grab. They had some big, big plays on 8-yard completions.”
Air Force could not keep pace. The Falcons went nowhere on their first four possessions before Dietz threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Ty MacArthur to make it 21-7 with 13:03 left before halftime.
But the Bulldogs answered with 10 consecutive points, including Carr’s third touchdown pass to Jensen with 3:49 remaining.
The game, the first meeting between Fresno State and Air Force since the 2000 Silicon Valley Bowl, marked the first meeting between Air Force graduates who went on to become head coaches.
DeRuyter had two stints as an Air Force assistant coach, serving as Calhoun’s defensive coordinator from 2007-09 and under Fisher DeBerry from 1991-94.