Pumphrey Runs Wild in the Aztecs’ 45-40 Win Over Berkeley

by Zach Engberg, Assistant Sports Editor

It was only a matter of time.

In what may have been the biggest game of his San Diego State football career, senior running back Donnel Pumphrey broke the 23-year-old school rushing record held by Marshall Faulk, setting a new career-high along the way. 

But Pumphrey, always humble, shared the glory with his teammates.

“I’m not really worried about the individual accolades,” Pumphrey said, “because it’s my whole offense that’s picking me up.”

Pumphrey ran for 281 yards, and the Aztecs needed each and every one of those yards in their 45-40 win over UC-Berkeley. But that one stat does not tell the whole story of a game which had fans on the edge of their seats from start to finish. 

“There were about 15 plays that were essential to us winning the game,” head coach Rocky Long said after the contentious win.

For much of the first half, the offenses ran wild.

Senior quarterback Davis Webb threw the ball 29 times for 239 yards and three touchdowns, time and again testing the Aztec corners, and coming out on top on almost every instance. In the game’s entirety, Webb had 522 yards and four touchdowns on 72 passes.

“I think we were shell-shocked by how fast they were,” Long said about his defense.

SDSU conversely ran the ball down Cal’s throat, averaging 6.9 yards on 19 rushes, highlighted by a 33-yard scamper by Pumphrey.

The Aztecs also dabbled with their own aerial attack via the play action, as on the 25-yard touchdown toss from redshirt sophomore Christian Chapman to junior running back Rashaad Penny for the first score of the game. 

Even the Aztecs’ special teams joined in the fun, as Penny returned a Bears’ kickoff 100 yards for the touchdown, the fourth such touchdown of his career, a school record. 

“Every time I’m back there [for a return], I’m thinking about housing it,” Penny said.

But, just as it has so many times in during the Aztecs’ 12-game winning streak, the defense was the deciding factor.

Twice in the first half, SDSU forced a turnover that swung the tides of the game. The first coming on a forced fumble by senior linebacker Randy Ricks, and the second on an interception by sophomore linebacker Ronley Lakalaka at the Cal 12-yard line, one of three picks on the night for the Aztecs. 

Lakalaka returned what was his first career interception for a touchdown, giving SDSU a 28-21 lead, one it would not relinquish for the rest of the contest. 

Although the Aztecs had a hard time slowing down the potent and punishing Cal offense, the defense made plays when plays needed to be made, holding on just long enough for Pumphrey to put his ultimate mark on the game.

Pumphrey recorded the first score of the second half on a 57-yard cutback, pushing SDSU to a 38-21 lead over the Bears, and seemingly putting the game away. 

But two turnovers by Chapman, including the first interception thrown by an Aztec quarterback in 13 games, allowed the Bears to crawl back into the game, closing the gap to 38-34. 

A 4-yard rushing touchdown by Pumphrey put the Aztecs up 45-34, but a quick score and recovered onside kick by Cal kept them alive, and gave the defense one last challenge.

“As a competitor, I want the game in my hands,” senior linebacker Calvin Munson said. “I want to be the guy that stops them.”

And stop them they did.

Staring into the face of defeat, as the Bears had the ball at the SDSU 22-yard line, down 45-40 with 9 seconds remaining, the defense remained strong, closing out the game with a wild interception by senior cornerback Damontae Kazee.

And preserving a game that will forever be remembered as Pumphrey’s shining moment.

After the win, Long reflected on his team’s performance.

“We don’t play worth a darn on either side of the ball,” Long said, “and we win. We can play so much better than we did tonight.

We got a chance to be a really good football team.” 

The Aztecs will get a chance to improve when they travel to play Northern Illinois University next Saturday, as they try to extend their winning streak to 13 games.