San Diego State Sinks Navy At Pointsettia Bowl

December 24, 2010

San Diego, California -- Led by freshman running back Ronnie Hillman's four touchdowns and 228 yards on 28 carries, the San Diego State Aztecs overpowered and defeated a gritty, but less talented Navy squad, 35-14, in front of 48,049 boisterous fans Thursday night at the Pointsettia Bowl.

Although the Aztecs were playing in their backyard, their home field advantage was expected to be somewhat limited given the strong local military presence and many loyal Midshipmen fans in the area.

In fact, the true underdog in this contest was not Navy, but the game itself, as heavy rains submerged the playing field under nearly a foot of water 24 hours prior to kickoff, threatening to delay the event.

But thanks to the heroics of the Qualcomm Stadium grounds crew, nearly 1.5 million gallons of water were pumped off of the field in the hours immediately preceding the game.

Surprisingly, the playing surface appeared to be intact and in good shape, as there were only a handful of slips all night.  As such, the field was a relative non-issue.

With close conference losses to Top 25 opponents Utah and TCU, San Diego State entered the game battle-tested, and it showed.  The Aztecs drew first blood, taking an early 7-0 lead at the 9:06 mark of the first quarter when Hillman scored on a 22-yard run off left tackle.

On their ensuing possession, the Aztecs struck again, as quarterback Ryan Lindley connected with open senior wide receiver Vincent Brown.  Brown then did the rest, eluding a defender after the catch and streaking down the sideline for a 53-yard score that put the Aztecs up 14-0 with 2:50 left in the first quarter.

The score capped off a 6-play, 93-yard drive and seemingly had San Diego State on the verge of an easy blowout win.

Navy responded however, as star quarterback Ricky Dobbs got the Midshipmen's triple option running game untracked.  Navy repeatedly ran to the short side of the field, getting several first downs, and converting a key fourth and 2 when Dobbs pitched to tailback Gee Gee Greene for a 16-yard scamper.

Those runs set up a Dobbs' 40-yard touchdown pass, as he found wideout Greg Jones streaking down the sideline one-on-one against man coverage.  Jones' nice grab in the endzone cut the deficit to 14-7 with 14:10 left in the half.

San Diego State would then provide an answer of their own behind the running of Hillman, as he exploded up the middle of the Navy defense for a 37-yard score and a 21-7 lead.

But in the closing seconds of the half, the Midshipmen were able to steal back some momentum, as Dobbs scored on a 1-yard keeper off left tackle to cut the lead to 21-14 with only 7 seconds left in the half.

The running play was a gutsy all-or-nothing gamble by Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo, since Navy had used its last time out prior to the play.

In the third quarter, Navy came roaring out of the locker room determined to tie the score.

Dobbs employed a no huddle attack and steadily marched his team down the field.  With a nice play-action fake that allowed Greene to slip behind the linebackers, Dobbs then hit him over the middle for a 30-yard pass completion to the San Diego State 9-yard line.

However, the Aztec D tightened up at that point, leading to a vital fourth and goal from the 3-yard line.

Coach Niumatalolo dialed up another play action pass play, this time to running back Bo Snelson. Snelson got open, Dobbs made a good throw, but the catchable ball bounced off Snelson's outstretched hands, ending a golden opportunity.

Dobbs would say it was "a crucial turning point, just from the standpoint of keeping everything rolling. To see the ball slip out of his hands there was a little bit demoralizing."

Hillman would then end the Navy threat for good.

Facing a third and one at the Navy 15, Lindley made a great fake to running back Brandon Sullivan, sucking in the Midshipmen's short yardage defense.  That left Hillman wide open in the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown catch, putting the Aztecs up 28-14 with 14:56 remaining in the game.

Hillman would later put the nail in the coffin when he ran untouched into the end zone from the one for a 35-14 lead with only 6:07 left to play.

The run concluded a 13-play, 80-yard drive that chewed up 6 minutes and 46 seconds off the clock. It also gave Hillman a Pointsettia Bowl record of three rushing touchdowns.

Navy would not score again.

With the win, San Diego State earned its first bowl victory since 1969. Head Coach Brady Hoke has revitalized the program, leading the Aztecs to their first bowl appearance since 1998 and a 9-4 record.

In fact, Aztec athletics on the whole are in a new "golden era," as the Men's Basketball team is undefeated and ranked in the top 10, and Tony Gwynn's baseball program has produced MLB's most exciting young pitcher in Stephen Strasburg.

Navy fell to 9-4 with the loss.

Player of the Game: Ronnie Hillman

No surprise, Hillman stole the show with his monster 4-touchdown effort. His 228 yards on the ground amounted to his sixth 100-yard game this year, and set a Pointsettia Bowl rushing record.

Hillman was quick to credit his offensive line, which did open up several huge holes in the second half.

However, Hillman himself was a genuine difference-maker on the field, as his speed, quickness, and sound reads gave the Navy D trouble all night. He made several great individual plays, including one highlight reel, spinning and tackle-breaking run in the third quarter.

More importantly, whenever the Aztecs felt threatened or in need of a play, offensive coordinator Al Borges repeatedly would call Hillman's number. More often than not, he would deliver.

Post Game Notes & Comments

1. Aztec receiver Vincent Brown was also spectacular, finishing with 8 catches for 165 yards. Brown was dominant early, breaking the Pointsettia Bowl receiving record after only one quarter with 6 balls for 143 yards.

Brown continually found soft spots in the Navy zone, and on one out pattern, made a nice break just as the Navy defensive back turned his hips and began to defend against the deep ball.

2.  Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs was stellar in defeat, making plays with both his arm and his feet. Dobbs' touchdown run was the 49th rushing touchdown of his career, ranking him fourth in NCAA history for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.

Dobbs would finish the evening with 107 yards on 24 carries.  He also completed 8 of 15 throws for 147 yards, one touchdown, and one late pick in garbage time.

Dobbs showed decent accuracy in the first half, but missed a potential touchdown throw in the third quarter, when he overthrew a receiver who had gotten two steps behind the Aztec D.

3.  Despite the rains from the past week, fans set a new Pointsettia Bowl attendance record.

4.  The Aztecs outgained Navy with 555 total yards to the Midshipmen's 382.  They also beat Navy at their own game, outrushing them 279 to 235, while averaging 6.8 yards per carry.

As expected, San Diego State's passing proved superior, with Lindley completing 18 of 23 throws for 276 yards.  The Aztecs were also more efficient on third down, converting 7 of 10 opportunities, to only 5 of 13 for Navy.

5. On his ability to get open in the first quarter, Brown said that Navy was "geared up to stop the run. Coach Borges called some great plays to get us open."

6. Dobbs was gracious in defeat, crediting his opponents and praising his team's unity and spirit.


By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for

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