With their hope of playing in the Mountain West Championship game dashed earlier in the day when Fresno State defeated Wyoming, 13-7, the Aztecs (9-2, 5-2 Mountain West) gave the ball to Penny as much as they could for him to show off for the Heisman Trophy voters.
“Now we’re at the end of the season, so we thought it was a real good idea to give him a chance to prove to everybody he’s also a pretty good punt returner and maybe some of those guys back east would actually realize it’s a real good football player out here on the West Coast,” coach Rocky Long said. “I don’t plan on them doing that but I sure wish they would.”
And Penny made it rather hard to ignore. He went 222 yards on 24 carries for two touchdowns. He had 201 more yards on two kickoff returns and one punt for two more TDs and added one reception for six yards. Penny’s 429 all-purpose yards broke a school record 422 yards was set by Marshall Faulk in 1991. And it would have been more had one of Penny’s 70-yard TD run was not called back for holding.
“Marshall Faulk, you can’t say much about it. It’s a blessing, but then again, it’s these guys,” Penny said. “Can’t do nothing without Chapman handing me the ball or the wedge guys blocking for me or the offensive line.”
Quarterback Christian Chapman said the team all shared in Penny’s success.
“It’s amazing to be part of. His name is going to be etched in history,” he said. “I feel everybody, everybody on this team feels they were a part of it. We take pride in it. It’s just as much us as it is him.
Long, however, wasn’t very optimistic the East Coast voters will be doing right by Penny.
“Well, they ignored one last year, too,” Long said referring to Donnel Pumphrey, whom Penny backed up for last season. “And they have been — I saw the list of the six or seven on ESPN today. I saw the list of the six or seven guys that are the best players in the country; I didn’t see Rashaad’s name on there.”
Despite the lopsided win, the Aztecs struggled in the first half coming back from a bye week. Wolf Pack quarterback Ty Gangi hit Brendan O’Leary-Orange for a 48-yard touchdown to give Nevada (2-9, 2-5) a 10-0 lead. Penny then scored on a 23-yard run followed by a 70-yard score on a punt return after the Wolf Pack went three-and-out to make it 14-10.
A 7-yard TD catch by O’Leary-Orange put Nevada in the lead, 17-14, at the beginning of the second quarter and that was the last time the Wolf Pack would lead.
“I thought that we came out a little rusty, a little ragged, especially on defense in the first half,” Long said. “I thought the secondary in the first half played horribly. I thought they played a lot better in the second half.”
The Aztecs will be playing their final game of the regular season against the New Mexico Lobos next Friday at SDCCU Stadium. Game time is 12:30 p.m. and the game will be carried live on CBS.