SAN DIEGO — Once workers pumped away 1.5 million gallons of rainwater that had flooded Qualcomm Stadium, it was smooth sailing for freshman Ronnie Hillman and San Diego State.
Hillman scored four touchdowns and matched his career best with 228 yards rushing on 28 carries to lead the Aztecs to their first bowl victory since 1969, 35-14 over Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl on Thursday night.
The only thing that slowed Hillman in the slightest was a wet sock. One of his cleats came off late in the third quarter and he hopped off the field, trying to keep that foot dry.
“My socks got wet,” Hillman said. “That’s not a good feeling when you’ve got cleats on.”
Six plays later, he pulled in a 15-yard scoring pass from Ryan Lindley after a beautifully executed fake.
Lindley faked a handoff to Brandon Sullivan into the line, then hid the ball down by his right hip as Navy stood up the fullback at the line. Lindley hit a wide-open Hillman in the right corner of the end zone for a 28-14 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Hillman, the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year, scored on a 2-yard run midway through the period to go along with first-half scoring runs of 22 and 37 yards.
“It was very surprising,” Hillman said of his big night, the sixth time this season he gained at least 150 yards. “But the O-line, like I said, you could put a high school senior back there and he would have 1,000 yards behind this line. I can’t say enough about them.”
SDSU (9-4) hadn’t won a postseason game since beating Boston University in the 1969 Pasadena Bowl. The Aztecs had been in only three bowl games since, most recently the 1998 Las Vegas Bowl, which they lost to North Carolina.Hillman broke the previous Poinsettia Bowl record of 129 yards rushing by Navy’s Adam Ballard in 2005. Hillman also ran for 228 yards in a loss at Missouri on Sept. 18.
The Aztecs outrushed Navy 279-235.
The game was played on a slick field after all that rainwater was pumped out of Qualcomm Stadium overnight. Players went slipping and sliding all night, but organizers met their promise of kicking off on time after several days of torrential rain flooded the field and a portion of the parking lot.
Navy (9-4) was making its third Poinsettia Bowl appearance since the game’s inception in 2005.
“They beat us pretty bad today,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “I wish we could have played better.”
Hillman’s 228 yards broke the school bowl record of 164 yards rushing by Marshall Faulk in the 1991 Freedom Bowl.
“He’s a great player,” Lindley said of Hillman. “He’s a guy blessed with a ton of ability and he uses it well. He’s an awesome talent. He has great balance and speed.”
SDSU took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on Hillman’s 22-yard TD run and Lindley’s 53-yard TD pass to Vincent Brown.
Lindley completed 18 of 23 passes for 276 yards.
Wide receiver Vincent Brown had eight catches for 165 yards, also a Poinsettia Bowl record. The old record was 126 yards by David Anderson of Colorado State in 2005.