Army attack overcomes Penny show in 42-35 thriller
By Jeff Wilson
FORT WORTH -- San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny couldn't be stopped Saturday afternoon in the 15th annual Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, but neither could the Army rushing attack.
Ultimately, a group of 10 Black Knights rushers outdid the Aztecs' one-man wrecking ball, as Darnell Woolfolk plunged in from 1 yard out late in the fourth quarter and Kell Walker easily scampered home for the winning two-point conversion in a 42-35 victory.
Cornerback Elijah Riley returned a fumble 29 yards on the game's final play to cap only the second 10-win season in Army history.
"I've seen the whole transition from my freshman and sophomore years when we were winning four games," senior linebacker Alex Aukerman said. "We flipped the script last year and built that foundation that we're now building to the point where 10-win seasons are the expectation."
Army scored the game's final 14 points to spoil a record day by Penny, who rushed for 221 yards and four touchdowns. Penny, the nation's leading rusher who finished fifth in voting for the Heisman Trophy, jetted for runs of 81, 32 and 49 yards before pounding in the apparent go-ahead score from 4 yards out with 5:47 left in the game.
Penny, who had only 14 carries, became only the fourth player in FBS history with at least 200 yards rushing in five straight games. He also set the Aztecs' single-season record for rushing yards with 2,248, and that figure is fifth all time in FBS history.
But that was of little consolation to the senior.
"It wasn't a good day. We lost," Penny said. "All I try to do is help my team and put my team in great situations. I just play to win."
Penny, who had only 15 carries, provided two of the Aztecs' three big-first half plays, bolting for a bowl-record 81 yards for the game's first score on a third-and-18 play. He added a second TD with the 32-yard scamper for a 14-7 lead on the first play of the second quarter.
The Black Knights, who entered with the nation's No. 1 rushing offense, never panicked in the face of Penny's bursts. Quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw scored from 19 yards out in the first, Woolfolk scored on a 7-yard run, and Andy Davidson gave Army its only lead of the half, at 21-14, with a 4-yard run with 18 seconds left.
Juwan Washington, though, gave San Diego State (10-3) a lift heading into halftime by countering the final-minute Army TD with a 78-yard kickoff return that knotted that score at 21-all.
Army received the opening kickoff after halftime and held the ball for more than 11 minutes. But the Black Knights (10-3) came up empty on the 20-play drive, as a fake field-goal try was thwarted.
Penny delivered moments later, and the Aztecs' defense came up with another stop as Anthony Luke intercepted pass by receiver Kjetil Cline on an Army trick play.
But the Black Knights' defense came through this time with the game's best defensive play. Cornerback Jaylon McClinton tipped a Christian Chapman pass while on his knees, and it caromed to Aukerman for the interception.
"It was a gift from the football gods," Aukerman said.
Army's offense went back to the ground and found paydirt as Bradshaw raced to the end zone from 27 yards out to forge a 28-28 tie.
But Penny did again, starting the ensuing drive with a 41-yard kickoff return that ended with a 15-yard personal-foul penalty. With the ball at the Army 44, the Aztecs needed only seven plays to take the lead with 5:47 to go.
Army again stuck to its strengths on the winning drive despite the time restraints. The Black Knights threw only one pass on a 15-play, 72-yard drive that Woolfolk capped with his second TD.
It was their 440th rushing yard of the game.
"We were confident that we were going to move the ball," said Bradshaw, who rushed for a team-high 180 yards.
Rather than kick for overtime, Army tried for a two-point conversion. Walker took a pitch from Bradshaw and easily converted for a 36-35 lead even though San Diego State used two timeouts to align its defense.
"I think our defense played poorly, and that's coaching on my part," Aztecs coach Rocky Long said. "We called two timeouts and we put our team into what we thought was the best defense for that play that they ran. One of our guys didn't blitz of the edge like he was told to, or I think we would have hit him in the backfield."
Said Walker: "I just had to catch it and run. Our o-line, I trust them with everything."