San Diego State opened the Hawaii Bowl with a kickoff return for a touchdown and the Aztecs closed the season with their 10th straight win, blowing past Cincinnati 42-7 today at Aloha Stadium.
Rashaad Penny took the opening kickoff 100 yards and the San Diego State defense — ranked fifth in the nation in yards allowed and first in turnover margin entering the game — came up with three interceptions in the Aztecs’ second victory in Hawaii this season.
SDSU, the Mountain West Conference champion, tied the Hawaii Bowl record for largest margin of victory and ended the season at 11-3. Cincinnati closed at 7-6.
Both teams started redshirt freshmen at quarterback and San Diego State’s Christian Chapman completed eight of 11 pass attempts for 113 yards and a touchdown. Running back Donnel Pumphrey ran for 99 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries and threw for a score to fullback Dakota Gordon.
Cincinnati freshman Hayden Moore made his third start of the season in place of Gunner Kiel, who did not make the trip due to personal reasons, and went 19-for-30 for 202 yards with three interceptions.
Penny fielded the opening kickoff about 5 yards deep in the south end zone, followed his blockers to an opening down the sideline and was untouched en route to the fourth kickoff return for a touchdown in Hawaii Bowl history. It was the bowl’s first touchdown return since Notre Dame’s Armando Allen went 96 yards against Hawaii in 2008.
The Aztecs forced a three-and-out, then drove 85 yards in eight plays — aided by 15-yard facemask and pass interference penalties on Cincinnati — to take a 14-0 lead less than six minutes into the game.
On third-and-2, Chapman faked a handoff, rolled to his left and completed a 14-yard scoring pass to Mikah Holder.
Cincinnati didn’t get past midfield until late in the second quarter and SDSU’s Damontae Kazee promptly snuffed the drive with his eighth interception of the season, moving him into a tie for the Mountain West Conference record.
Pumphrey then broke loose for a 33-yard run and capped the four-play drive by tossing a 16-yard pass to Gordon, who flattened a defender on his way to the end zone and SDSU took a 21-0 lead into halftime.
Cincinnati drove into San Diego State territory on its second possession of the third quarter and lined up for a 41-yard field goal. The ball was flipped back to kicker Andrew Gantz on a fake, but Malik Smith was there to stop him for a 9-yard loss.
The Aztecs then drove 67 yards in eight plays and Gordon scored his second touchdown of the game on a 1-yard plunge. Pumphrey added a 2-yard touchdown run behind a crushing block by Gordon and SDSU defensive lineman Alex Barrett added to the lead with a 43-yard interception return for a score.
Cincinnati avoided the shutout when Mike Boone scored on a 1-yard dive with 3:21 left.
San Diego State’s win was the first for a Mountain West or Western Athletic Conference team in the Hawaii Bowl since Hawaii’s 41-24 victory over Arizona State in 2006.
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This low-ranking “bowl” game was played before a nearly empty stadium. They gave tickets away, but there were few takers.