AIR FORCE ACADEMY — Rocky Long didn’t make any halftime adjustments. He couldn’t. There wasn’t an intermission because the teams kept right on playing.
The San Diego State coach more than got his point across during an 88-minute lightning delay in the second quarter. The impromptu break provided the perfect opportunity to recharge his sluggish bunch.
Rashaad Penny scored three times, including a 53-yard scamper with 5:39 remaining, and No. 22 San Diego State held off Air Force 28-24 on a dreary Saturday night.
“I welcomed the delay because I thought we had to regroup,” Long explained. “When they said it was going to be an hour and a half ... then I didn’t like it that much.”
Given the lengthy delay that started at 7:56 of the second quarter, both teams agreed to skip intermission and headed straight into the third quarter.
That only allowed Penny to pick up steam.
Penny, the nation’s leading rusher entering the game, struggled early in the soggy conditions. But he finally found some running room as the Aztecs (4-0, 1-0 Mountain West) began their quest to capture a third straight conference title. Penny finished with 128 yards rushing, which was 68 below his season average.
“You can’t always have a great day. I didn’t have a great day,” Penny said. “You have games like this where it’s all adversity. “
The rain played a starring role early. The shower was steady at kickoff and grew more intense with every wind gust. The conditions led to a botched extra point by Air Force, a punt from San Diego State that traveled only 17 yards and conservative play calling. The Falcons led 9-0 when the game was halted and the teams sent to their locker rooms.
It was the first weather delay at Falcon Stadium since 1993 against the Aztecs.
“After the delay, we said we can’t put ourselves in the hole anymore,” Penny explained. “Just stick with each other and we came out and played great.”
On his go-ahead TD, Penny was expecting to go right, but cut back left against an over-pursuing defense and found a crease.
His run came moments after Air Force (1-2, 0-1) grabbed the lead when Tim McVey took a pitch, jumped over a San Diego State defender on the ground, landed backward and twirled into the end zone for a 12-yard score.
Air Force got the ball back with just over 2 minutes left, but Trey Lomax intercepted Arion Worthman’s fourth-down pass to help the Aztecs extend their winning streak to seven straight over the Falcons.
“We thought we came out pretty hot. We had a lot of momentum,” McVey said. “Give them credit — they came back after the delay ready to play.”
It was by no means a thing of beauty for San Diego State, which had a punt blocked, missed a field goal and fumbled deep in Air Force territory.
“The weather played to their strengths and didn’t play to ours,” Long said.
THE TAKEAWAYSan Diego State: Big exhale. The Aztecs couldn’t get anything going the first half, but Penny saved the night with his big run.
Air Force: The Falcons fell to 19-77-3 all-time against ranked teams, including a 5-16 record under coach Troy Calhoun.
PUNT BLOCKAir Force’s Garrett Kauppila blocked a punt in the fourth quarter, with Lesley Dalger scooping it up and heading toward the end zone. But Dalger lost control of the ball around the 4. No matter, Worthman scored on a 1-yard dive with 12:35 remaining.
FULLBACK DIVEAir Force fullback Parker Wilson had 11 carries on the season before Saturday. He had his number called 20 times against the Aztecs in large part because of the weather. Meanwhile, McVey, the team’s leading rusher, didn’t have his first carry until the fourth quarter.
“It’s hard to run the triple option when it’s raining like that,” McVey explained. “We were hitting them hard with the fullback and the fullback was running really well.”
EMPTY SEATSAir Force announced the attendance at 27,575, but there was hardly anyone in the seats once the teams returned to the field.
UP NEXTSan Diego State: Hosts Northern Illinois on Saturday. The Aztecs lead the series 5-0.
Air Force: Travels to New Mexico. The Falcons lost 45-40 in a game that was played in Dallas last October.