The Sports Xchange
Sep 24, 2017
Rashaad Penny's third touchdown turned the tide in No. 22-ranked San Diego State's favor for good, and the Aztecs survived a back-and-forth challenge from Air Force 28-24 in the Mountain West Conference opener for both teams.
The lead changed four times from the late third quarter until Penny's 53-yard scoring rush put San Diego State (4-0, 1-0 MWC) ahead for good in a game that included a 90-minute lightning delay. Air Force (1-2, 0-1) had two opportunities to respond, but Arion Worthman's last-ditch pass attempt was intercepted by San Diego State safety Trey Lomax.
Air Force took its second lead of the fourth quarter when Tim McVey hurdled a trio of San Diego State defenders en route to a 12-yard touchdown.
Tight end David Wells, who caught the game-winning score a week earlier against Stanford, took a 28-yard pass over the top from quarterback Christian Chapman for a touchdown. The score came in response to Air Force's first points after the second-quarter lightning delay.
Garrett Kauppila blocked a San Diego State punt that Lesley Dagler recovered at the San Diego State 4-yard line. Worthman punched in the touchdown two plays later, then found Marcus Bennett for a two-point conversion pass.
The first of the lead changes came on Penny's second touchdown, an untouched 20-yard run late in the third quarter.
Penny saved the drive with a spectacular, one-handed reception of a pass that came out of Chapman's hand awkwardly after a blind-side hit.
Penny's 128 yards were a season low for the nation's rushing leader, who came in averaging 196, but his three rushing touchdowns set a career high.
A 90-minute lightning delay midway through the second quarter provided San Diego State a spark, but Air Force made a defensive stop to maintain a 9-7 lead at halftime.
The Aztecs' first play out of the locker room following the delay was a 42-yard pass from Chapman to tight end Kahale Warring, setting up Penny for a 2-yard touchdown run.
An Air Force pass interference penalty in the end zone on third down helped continue the San Diego State scoring drive. It was the second costly Falcons penalty of the possession.
Just before the delay, defensive lineman Santo Coppola leveled San Diego State punter Brandon Heicklen for a 15-yard roughing penalty to extend the Aztecs' first scoring drive.
Both offenses struggled, combining for just 213 yards of total offense in driving rain. Wind gusts reached 22 mph, rendering passing difficult, while soggy field conditions limited rushing attacks that came in ranked No. 6 and No. 24 in the nation. Penny finished the half with 29 on 10 carries.
Air Force got on the board first with a 29-yard Ronald Cleveland touchdown run, the longest single play of the half for the Falcons' triple-option offense.
A botched snap denied Air Force points on the ensuing point-after attempt. Another special teams snap miscue almost cost the Falcons again just before the half, setting up San Diego State deep in Air Force territory, but John Baron's 39-yard field-goal attempt went wide left.
Air Force built a 9-0 lead before the lightning delay when kicker Luke Strebel made a 45-yard field goal.
NOTES: Rashaad Penny has scored at least one touchdown in every game on the 2017 season, and has reached the end zone in five-of-six dating back to 2016. ... Air Force's 52 penalty yards were the Falcons' most this season. ... The win was San Diego State's first as a Top 25 team since 1977. The Aztecs lost their very next game after entering the AP Top 25 Poll twice in the 2016 regular season.