And here I thought Texans took their football seriously. *sigh*
Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. is an elusive fellow with the football in his hands, dodging would-be tacklers like they’re moving at half speed.
When Ward put the ball in the air here against San Diego State, it was another story.
SDSU intercepted Ward on three straight possessions in the third quarter – the third one returned 54 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Ron Smith – fueling a 34-10 Las Vegas Bowl victory Saturday afternoon before a crowd of 29,286 at Sam Boyd Stadium.
SDSU (11-3) tied its school record for wins with a victory that seemed improbable after the first quarter of play.
SDSU scored 34 unanswered points after Houston jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first period. The Cougars (9-4) limited the Aztecs to three yards in total offense in the opening period.
It included holding Aztecs running back D.J. Pumphrey to minus-1 yard on seven carries. Pumphrey got untracked with a 30-yard carry in the second quarter and added a 32-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Pumphrey became the NCAA’s all-time rushing leader three minutes into the fourth quarter when he took a handoff from quarterback Christian Chapman and ran 15 yards around the right side.
The run moved Pumphrey past Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne (6,397 yards) atop the NCAA’s rushing chart. Pumphrey finished the game with 19 carries for 115 yards, giving him 6,405 yards for his career.
Houston built a 10-0 lead in the first quarter on 31-yard field by Ty Cummings and a 2-yard touchdown run by quarterback Greg Ward Jr.
The Cougars made it look easy, especially on the TD drive, with an uptempo offense that Ward led with timely runs and key completions.
And how were things going for the Aztecs? Put it this way: Pumphrey had fewer yards on the season after the first quarter than he did coming into the game.
Pumphrey carried seven times in the first quarter – and had minus-1 yard to show for it.
The worst series came on SDSU’s second possession, when Chapman handed the ball to Pumphrey on three straight plays. The Cougars defense stopped him for three straight losses of 1, 3 and 6 yards.
SDSU didn’t get a first down until Houston gave it to them on a running into the kicker penalty on the first play of the second quarter.
SDSU turned the corner when Pumphrey turned the corner on a 30-yard run with four minutes gone in the second quarter. That started the Aztecs on their first scoring drive, which ended with a 23-yard field goal by sophomore kicker John Baron.
Baron added a 28-yard field goal with 1:29 remaining in the second quarter to draw the Aztecs within 10-6 at halftime.
Then came a third quarter that turned everything around.
Three plays into the quarter SDSU safety Kameron Kelly, who had let a would-be interception sail through his arms in the second quarter, stepped in front of a Ward pass at the SDSU’s 36-yard line.
The Aztecs couldn’t convert, but it didn’t matter when linebacker Calvin Munson intercepted Ward on the succeeding series.
SDSU converted this into a touchdown in four plays, Pumphrey carrying it in from 32 yards out for a 13-10 advantage.
Houston was moving methodically down the field on its next drive when Smith, who had had his struggles covering Houston receivers, jumped a route and went 54 yards the other way for a 20-10 lead.
SDSU’s defense play with abandon thereafter, sacking Ward and stopping Houston cold.
A 28-yard touchdown pass from Chapman to wide receiver Curtis Anderson and a 7-yard run by Juwan Washington completed the scoring for the Aztecs.
Kelly added a fourth interception – SDSU’s FBS-leading 26th of the season – with another pick in the game’s final minute.