The Aztecs of San Diego State brought the heavy artillery to Saturday’s Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, but it was the ground forces of the Army Golden Knights and a courageous decision to go for a two-point conversion instead of a tie that allowed Army to capture a thrilling 42-35 come-from-behind victory.
The game was decided by Army Head Coach Jeff Monken, as he opted to go for two points with just :18 seconds left in the game after Army had scored on a Darnell Walker one-yard touchdown run to put Army within one point of the lead, 35-34. Monken had to decide whether to kick the extra point and send the game into overtime, or go for two and the win. Army had just driven 72 yards in 15 plays after enduring another touchdown blast from Aztecs’ All American running back Rashaad Penny, and Monken chose to go for two.
On the two-point attempt, a pitchout to Golden Knights’ Kell Walker worked to perfection, as he scooted around the right end and into the end zone, giving Army its precious two points and a 36-35 lead. Nick Schrage intercepted a lateral on the game’s last play and returned it for a touchdown to provide the final margin of victory, but it was the two-point play that turned the game.
“I had seen enough of Rashaad Penny, golly,” Monken said afterwards. “He is the finest running back in the country, and whenever he touched the ball we had trouble stopping him. He was rushing for over 15 yards per attempt, and everyone on that field was tired.
“I didn’t want the ball to ever be in his hands in overtime, so that’s why I made the call to go for two.”
Monken’s decision worked, and Army won its 10th game (10-3) for only the second time in its storied history and won back-to-back bowl wins. The Aztecs finished at 10-3.
Monken was right to worry about Rashaad Penny. He was brilliant for San Diego State in his final game as an Aztec, playing like a man among boys. All he did was rush for 221 yards on 14 carries and score four touchdowns. It was his fourth touchdown of the game with just over five minutes left that had put the Aztecs up 35-28 and forced Menken to make his tough choice after they scored late.
Penny was the heavy artillery San Diego State relied on all game. He scored touchdowns on runs of 81, 32, 49 and 4 yards, rushed for 221 yards, became only the fourth player in NCAA history to rush for over 200 yards in five consecutive games, broke the Armed Forces Bowl records for yards in a game and touchdowns by one running back, and almost single-handedly defeated the Golden Knights.
Penny scored a touchdown in all four quarters, including one on the third play of the game, the first play of the second quarter, a 49-yarder in the third quarter to give the Aztecs a 28-21 lead, and then his fourth quarter four-yard plunge that put San Diego State ahead after Army had tied the game on Senior Quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw’s 27-yard run with 9:25 left to play in the fourth quarter that tied the game at 28.
And while Penny was dominant and quickly tore through the Golden Knights defense, the game was dominated by the Army triple option attack led by Bradshaw, who also ran for 184 yards and two touchdowns.
Army used its ball-control offense to keep Penny off the field and the Golden Knights in the game. They ran 91 plays to San Diego States’ 31 and controlled the time of possession by holding the ball for 46 minutes to just 14 for the Aztecs. The ball control offense worked, and it kept San Diego States offense off the field.
The first half was a reflection of the character of the game.
On the third play from scrimmage on the opening drive of the game, Rashaad Penny electrified the Armed Forces Bowl crowd with an 81-yard bolt down the west side line to stun Army just 1:24 into the game. Following the extra point by John Baron II, the Aztecs lead 7-0.
Following an exchange of possessions, Army took over on its own 30-yard line with 6:22 left in the first quarter. Eight plays later, senior quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw broke off left tackle and carried the mail into the end zone. The extra point tied the game at 7-all. The score remained tied until the first play of the second quarter when Penny struck again with a 32-yard scamper to put San Diego State ahead by six. After the extra point, it was 14-7.
But Army was not done.
In typical Army fashion, the ground attack methodically moved down the field, chewing up 74 yards on 12 plays highlighted by a 7-yard run from Darnell Woolfolk. The Cadets ate up almost seven minutes of the second quarter clock, and Wilson’s extra point made it 14-14. The Cadets were back in business.
On their next possession, the ground forces of Army mauled the Aztecs for six minutes, finally finding paydirt when Andy Davidson plowed into the end zone with just :18 seconds left in the half.
Just as it appeared the Cadets were going to lead the high-flying Aztecs at the half, Juwan Washington of Kennedale High School took the kickoff and returned it 78 yards for a game-tying touchdown to end the scoring in the first half.
STATS AND NOTES:
ARMY—Ahmad Bradshaw rushed for 180 yards on 32 carries and scored two touchdowns. Darnell Walker also rushed for 87 yards on 21 carries and had two touchdowns. The other Army touchdown was scored by Andy Davidson, who ran for 81 yards on 14 carries. Bradshaw threw for just six yards, completing only one pass the entire game.
SAN DIEGO STATE—Rashaad Penny rushed for 221 yards on 14 carries and had 4 touchdowns, averaging 15.8 yards per carry. Juwan Washington of Kennedale High School rushed for 44 yards on 5 carries and returned a kickoff 78 yards to tie the score 21-21 at halftime. Fred Trevillion caught three passes for 34 yards.
Penny’s fifth consecutive game of over 200 yards rushing made him only the fourth running back to ever accomplish the feat. He set bowl records for most yards rushing and four touchdowns.
Army and San Diego State combined for a bowl record of 726 rushing. They also set the bowl record for a record low of a combined 31 yards passing.
Army had 31 first downs to San Diego States 11, a bowl record for biggest difference in first downs. The 32 minute time advantage Army held over San Diego State was also a bowl record.