SAN DIEGO (AP) — Pardon coach Ken Niumatalolo for being perhaps a bit befuddled amid the euphoria of Navy’s 17-16 Poinsettia Bowl victory against San Diego State on Tuesday night.
“I have no idea how we won the game,” Niumatalolo said.
The Midshipmen won it by not being the last team to make a critical mistake in a game full of them.
Navy’s Austin Grebe kicked a go-ahead, 24-yard field goal with 1 minute, 27 seconds left.
The Midshipmen won it after Donny Hageman was wide right on a 34-yard field goal attempt with 20 seconds left.
Hageman had made his first three field goal attempts for the Aztecs.
The winning drive was set up when Navy’s Chris Johnson forced and recovered a fumble by Donnel Pumphrey, who earlier set San Diego State’s single-season rushing record.
Fullback Chris Swain converted on a fourth-and-1 and Ryan Williams-Jenkins took a pitch and ran 28 yards to help set up the game-winner by Grebe.
“Honestly, I wasn’t thinking I was going to have to kick it because whenever we get that close, Keenan scores,” Grebe said, referring to quarterback Keenan Reynolds. “I was just glad to make it and send our seniors out on a positive note.”
San Diego State then got to the Navy 17 before Hageman missed. Hageman earlier made field goals of 43, 37 and 30 yards. His third field goal gave SDSU a 16-14 lead late in the third quarter.
Pumphrey gained 112 yards on 21 carries to set SDSU’s single-season rushing record with 1,867 yards. The old record was 1,842 yards by George Jones in 1995.
“It’s great but we didn’t get the win,” he said.
Navy (8-5) lost four fumbles. SDSU (7-6) had three turnovers.
“We played really, really well on defense,” Niumatalolo said. “Our defense gave us a chance. We put our defense in some bad spots with turnovers on offense, but they didn’t flinch. They played phenomenal.
“We pride ourselves in trying not to turn the ball over and not make penalties,” he said. “To our kids’ credit they just kept battling. Things looked ugly there. We put our defense in some bad spots but they didn’t flinch. They made some big plays to keep them out of the end zone.”
Reynolds ran for two touchdowns, extending his own NCAA record for scores by a quarterback to 64.
He scored on a 1-yard keeper for the game’s first score and then somersaulted into the end zone at the end of a 6-yard run to give Navy a 14-13 lead midway through the third quarter.
“It wasn’t pretty but we were able to pull it out,” Reynolds said. “That’s football. A win is a win.
“Our defense came up huge for us,” he said. “Hats off to those guys. If they didn’t play as well as they did we wouldn’t have had a chance.”
The Midshipmen won their fourth straight and for the sixth time in seven games. They’ve won consecutive bowl games for the second time in history. They were playing just 10 days after beating Army for the 13th straight time.
Leading 16-14, SDSU went for it on fourth-and-5 from the Navy 12 but Quinn Kaehler’s pass to Mikah Holder was incomplete.
“If we score points down there then it doesn’t come down to a field goal,” SDSU coach Rocky Long said. “You’ve got to give Navy a lot of credit. We had so many opportunities in the red zone.”
Navy punted on its next possession but got the ball back after Pumphrey fumbled.
The Midshipmen rushed for 254 yards, led by Swain with 72 yards on eight carries.
Navy improved to 2-2 in the Poinsettia Bowl. It avenged a 35-14 loss to SDSU here in 2010.