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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
LAS VEGAS-It was a season of historic milestones and record breakers for the San Diego State University football team and former Norwalk High standout Rashaad Penny was in the middle of it. The junior rushed for 32 hard yards on 10 carries against the University of Houston last Saturday afternoon in the 25th Las Vegas Bowl to give him 1,027 yards for the season.
What’s significant about that is the Aztecs became the first team in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision history to have a 1,000-yard and 2,000-yard rusher in the same season. Donnel Pumphrey, who was the Mountain West Conference’s Player of the Year, entered the game with 2,018 yards.
“It was a great win,” Penny said. “We executed. Things started slow, but there’s something with this team that we just pick up. We just pick ourselves up and we come out and play well.”
“That’s a credit to our players, number one,” said SDSU head coach Rocky Long. “I think our coaches do a nice job of evaluating. I think our coaches do a nice job of coaching. But guess what? Coaches don’t make plays, coaches do not win games. Coaches can lose games, but coaches do not win games. Players win games and having great players like [senior linebacker Calvin Munson and Pumphrey], and now there are several others in that locker room too that can really play. All we have to do is make sure they’re in great shape, they have the right attitude and give them an honest chance to win, and then they go out and win.”
In addition, Pumphrey became the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher with 6,405 career yards, passing former University of Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne, who rushed for 6,397 yards. But early on, it wasn’t easy for Penny in SDSU’s come from behind 34-10 victory over the Cougars. Even though the MWC’s Special Teams Player of the Year would have a pair of kickoff returns in the first quarter totaling 49 yards, he wouldn’t have his first carry until the third play of the second quarter, which went for a four-yard loss.
After two more carries, he finally eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark with an 11-yard run with 1:39 left in the first half. Penny wouldn’t touch the ball in the third quarter as the Aztecs had rallied from a 10-0 hole to lead 20-10 entering the final stanza. But in the fourth quarter, he carried six times for 17 yards as the Aztecs would tack on two more touchdowns.
“The five dues up front, plus two more; the tight end and fullback, they played a heck of a job,” Penny said. “They blocked their butts off for me and [freshman running back] Juwan Washington]. The receivers do a great job of making their blocks and doing what’s told. But it’s just all about the execution part. We just did a great job tonight and I feel like that’s going to go a long way.”
SDSU wrapped up the season with an 11-3 record and won the MWC for a second straight season. The Aztecs began the season with a three-game winning streak before falling to the University of South Alabama on Oct. 1. But the Aztecs reeled off six straight wins before suffering back to back losses to the University of Wyoming and Colorado State University.
“It was a rocky one,” Penny said. “We started off strong, in the middle it got hectic and at the end, it got a little crazy. But this team just kept its composure and we came out and we played. We never changed our game plan for any team. We just came out and told you what we were going to do and we did it. This was an excellent win and we’re definitely setting it up for next year. We can’t wait.”
SDSU will be young next season, especially on the offensive line as the Aztecs graduate four of the five linemen, plus Pumphrey and wide receiver Curtis Anderson. But Penny will be back for his final season and a chance to add more to what is already a superb career, both as a kickoff returner and as a running back.
“We’re going to ride off of this win and just continue to grow,” Penny said. “We’re still young up front and I can’t wait to see what we have going. I love this group of guys and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
The last week of December, and sometimes the second to the last week of the month, signifies the last of the preseason tournaments for most of the teams. Artesia High split its four games in the Pioneer Tournament last week, then defeated Bell Gardens High 74-55 this past Tuesday to improve to 8-5. The Pioneers visited Ganesha High on Dec. 22 for their last non league game before Suburban League action begins on Jan. 6.
Cerritos High has struggled thus far, winning twice in its 10 games. The Dons, who edged La Habra High 73-71 last Saturday in the last game of the North Orange County Championships, will square off against Downey High today at Staples Center. Cerritos will then face Mira Mesa High on Tuesday in the first game of the Mt. Carmel Tournament.
Gahr High has lost three in a row, all in the North Orange County Championships, including a 61-53 setback to Orange Lutheran High last Saturday. The Gladiators (6-5) will face Wasilla (Alaska) High on Tuesday in the first round of the prestigious Torrey Pines Holiday Classic.
John Glenn High has lost four consecutive games after picking up its only victory back on Dec. 2. The Eagles (1-8) will face Pacifica High on Monday in the first round of the Estancia Tournament.
Norwalk High began the season with three straight wins before losing four of the next six games, will begin pool play action of the Whittier Christian Tournament against Ontario High on Monday. The Lancers will also face Hawai’i Baptist Academy and Whittier Christian High on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.
After going 2-2 in the Pioneer Tournament, Valley Christian High will open up action in the Orange Holiday Classic against Rubidoux High on Monday. The Crusaders, who had lost in the championship game of its own tournament the previous week, are 6-4.
After winning four games last season, Artesia is already having a better season. The Pioneers are 5-5 after losing to Buena Park High 44-38 this past Wednesday. The Pioneers will visit Newport Harbor High on Thursday.
Cerritos dropped to 3-6 after a 50-36 loss to Santa Margarita High last Saturday and will face Warren High on Monday in the first round of the Marina/Edison Tournament.
Gahr had been out of action since Dec. 10 but the Lady Gladiators went back to the court this past Tuesday and fell to Victor Valley High 53-51 in its first pool play game of the Gahr Christmas Classic. The Lady Gladiators (5-4) played Bolsa Grande High on Dec. 22 in their last pool play game.
Glenn has gone winless in all six of its games this season and will go up against JSerra High on Monday in its first pool play game of the Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary Classic on Monday. The Lady Eagles will also play Academia Tijuana on Wednesday, Franklin High on Thursday and Palisades High on Friday to wrap up pool play action.
Norwalk evened its mark to 4-4 after a 47-41 victory at Western High this past Tuesday and will participate in the Garden Grove Tournament next week. While Valley Christian won its third straight game following a 52-49 win against Ocean View High in pool play action of the Villa Park Tournament. The Lady Crusaders (9-3) faced Mission Viejo High on Dec. 22 and will finish the tournament today.
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