SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
You could sense it in the air. An ominous, General George S. Patton-esque presence that seemed to bellow from the hallowed ground, "Men, football is war! Oh, how I love it so!"
And so it was for the clash of the titans that is known simply as the "Soto Cano Turkey Bowl."
Nov. 24, marked the sixth time that the best Army and Air Force teams the base had to offer met on the football field of battle here. This year was a year of retribution for the Army, as the previous five battles had left them trailing the Air Force by one.
The Air Force team, led by Jonathan Johnson, won the coin toss, but elected to defer to the Army who chose to take the ball. It was as gutsy move by the Air Force, as it is always a psychological advantage to score first.
The ensuing kick-off kicked-off the first controversy of the game. The ball travelled far enough to be eligible for recovery by the Air Force team (on-side kick), which they did. Unaware the on-side kick rule was in effect, the Army appealed and won, resulting in the application of an obscure, but binding rule known to many back-yard athletes as the "do-over."
Once underway, both teams struggled offensively, relying heavily on their strategic defense systems to mitigate damage. Despite the Army's massive offensive line, the Air Force's A-10 "tank-buster" defense completely shut down the Army's ground attack while the Army team's air defenses reduced the Air Force's air assault to less than precision accuracy.
The Air Force struck first when Demarkus Littles intercepted an Army pass at the goal line and, with supersonic speed, made a direct hit on the end zone for six. The Air Force would close the first half scoring on a quarterback keeper by Johnson.
While the capacity crowd drank rootbeer and delighted in the half-time performance of the marching band from the Liceo Jesus de Nazareth School from Comayagua, Army coach Kristopher Douglas made adjustments in his battle plan.
"We must allow our field commander adequate time to execute the long range attack strategy while denying our adversary the ability to advance," Douglas said. (Translation: "We need to give our quarterback more protection in the pocket and tighten up our defense to stop the Air Force running game.")
Prior to resuming this battle of epic proportions, the referees made the command decision to shorten the second half by five minutes. Presumably, this was due to impending darkness, and the Air Force team only conducts operations during daylight hours, Monday through Friday and only in fair weather conditions.
Despite less than optimum visibility, the Air Force scored early in the second half on another quarterback keeper by Johnson. It would seem that Air Force had shocked and awed the Army team into submission when the Army artillery came roaring to life and they scored twice, closing the gap to six. That would be the last of the scoring for the Army, however, as their Howitzers fell silent.
They fought valiantly, deserving of a medal or, at least, a commemorative T-shirt. But, alas, as the chalk dust settled and both sides gathered their wounded, it was the Air Force claiming their fourth championship title by a score of 30-12.
"This was a lot of fun regardless of who won," Douglas said. "It's great to be out here for something like this when we're all away from our families."
The Turkey Bowl is sponsored here every year by the base Morale, Welfare and Recreation office. Each team was supplied with jerseys, and there were giveaways for all participants and spectators. One lucky fan won round trip airfare to anywhere in the continental United States.