Football to face Army in the Armed Forces Bowl


Kelly Smiley

Sophomore running back Juwan Washington, senior wide receiver Mikah Holder, sophomore linebacker Kyavha Tezino and senior fullback Nick Bawden lead SDSU onto the field before its opening game win over UC Davis Sept. 2.

by Zach Engberg and Abraham Jewett

There was a point during the 2017 San Diego State football season when a bid to a New Year’s Six Bowl – the pinnacle of success for an FBS team – seemed well within reach.

The Aztecs were sitting at No. 18 in the AP Top 25, with wins over two Pacific-12 conference opponents and a Heisman Trophy candidate in the backfield and a marquee matchup with Boise State upcoming.

That was week seven.

Back-to-back Mountain West Conference losses took SDSU out of the running for the conference championship, and after a weak conference slate to close out the season, the 10-win Aztecs were relegated to the six bowls with Mountain West affiliations – of which SDSU was invited to none.

The Aztecs (10-2) will instead play against Army (8-3) in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 23 at 12:30 p.m. in Fort Worth, Texas.

The invite was a surprise to head coach Rocky Long.

“It was out of the blue,” Long said. “We had eight manuals about the bowl game and what you do at the bowl game and this wasn’t one of the eight… We were guessing on eight and we didn’t guess right. It was one we never thought we’d get.”

Long, whose father was in the Army for 30 years, said he is not disappointed by the selection. 

“That’s a pretty good matchup,” Long said. “Our number one criteria was to play the very best team we can.” 

While SDSU has finished its regular season, Army will have a chance to win it’s ninth game of the season during its annual game against the Naval Academy on Dec. 9.

Aztecs defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales said that sharing the field with Army will be an honor, and he expects a highly competitive game.

“We are totally honored to be on the same field with them, because what they’ve got in store, I mean they protect all our liberties and freedoms, and we understand that,” Gonzales said. “When those whistles blow on Saturday… for that 60-minutes that doesn’t matter, but when that 60 minutes is over we’re extremely honored and proud of those guys.”

The game will be a Texas homecoming for 13 SDSU football players, including senior Sergio Phillips.

“It’s a blessing to go back to Texas,” Phillips said. “Some of my family hasn’t seen me play, so they will be able to this time.”

Aztecs offensive coordinator Jeff Horton is one member of the coaching staff from Texas, and said that he and other Texas natives are excited to play back home.

“We’re excited about going home, and the team’s really excited about having an opportunity to go play and have a good time,” Horton said. “A great reward for them and the hard work they’ve put in this year.”

SDSU played in only one afternoon game this season, and Horton said that he is excited for the team to get more exposure from fans away from the west coast, especially in regards to watching senior running back Rashaad Penny, who leads the nation in rushing yards this season with 2,027.

“All the people that were sleeping during the year when we played that don’t realize that Rashaad Penny was the best player in the country, maybe they’ll be awake at 2:30 on that Saturday,” he said.

The game will feature two of the top running programs in the country, with Army leading the nation in rushing offense with 368.1 yards per game, while SDSU ranks 12th with 252.25 yards per game.

“I told our receivers if they don’t think we throw the ball enough, Army has thrown it 18 times all year,” Horton said. “We’re like an air raid team compared to Army. If it wasn’t on TV, it would be a really short game.”

SDSU, for its part, has been tough against the run this season, and ranks eighth in the FBS in rushing defense, allowing only 110.4 yards per contest.

The game was one of the last of the 40 bowl matchups announced, and while some players began to feel anxious, sophomore running back Juwan Washington said that everyone was relieved and excited once the selection finally came out.

“It was great once we found out who we were playing,” Washington said. “We saw that we’re playing a great team so all the team was excited about that to see how tough we are.”

There were rumblings of the Aztecs facing a Power 5 opponent in the Foster Farms Bowl, but with the Selection Committee leaving a Big Ten Conference team out of the four-team playoff, that spot became the Big Ten’s to fill.

The University of Purdue and the University of Arizona will face off in the Foster Farms Bowl on Dec. 27 .

No. 25 Boise State University jumped the Aztecs in the AP Top 25 and Coaches Poll after its conference championship win over Fresno State University, and will play the University of Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 16.

SDSU defeated the University of Houston in the Las Vegas Bowl in 2016, 34-10.

This is the ninth consecutive season that the Aztecs will play in a bowl game, the last eight of which have come during Long’s tenure.