By Dennis J. Freeman
San Diego State freshman Ronnie Hillman turned out to be the biggest star of the night at the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. Instead of an evening for which Navy star quarterback Ricky Dobbs was supposed to make the game his personal highlight reel show, Hillman made it his own coming out party.
Hillman rushed for three touchdowns, caught a scoring pass and set a new bowl rushing mark to lead San Diego State to a 35-14 win in front of 48, 049 fans at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
Hillman rushed for 228 yards on 28 carries and three touchdowns. For good measure he added a scoring reception to his big night.
San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley said Hillman was great.
“He’s got great balanced, great speed,” said Lindley. “He’s got God’s blessing and talent and he uses it well. I’m glad that he’s sticking around for the next four years.”
Dobbs, who tied the NCAA’s fourth highest rushing touchdown mark by a quarterback, led Navy. Dobbs came into the game as the most heralded player in the game, but Hillman took that thunder away from one of Navy’s all-time greats. Dobbs ran and passed for 269 yards and two scores in total offense and wrapped up his collegiate football career with the second-most rushing yards by a signal-caller in Navy history.
San Diego State looked as though they would run away from Navy in the first quarter of the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsetta Bowl, bolting to a two touchdown lead in the period. But thanks to a couple of big plays by quarterback Dobbs, Navy worked its way back into the game. But in the end it was too much Ronnie Hillman for Navy to handle.
“The O-line did a great job blocking all night,” Hillman said. “We just worked hard, and you know, our work paid off. The seniors did a great job blocking all year. I’m just doing my job, just running.”
Thanks to a 22-yard run by Hillman and a 53-yard pass from Ryan Lindley to Vincent Brown, San Diego State surprised Navy by taking a 14-0 first quarter lead. San Diego State dominance of Navy in the first quarter was evident by Aztecs piling up 14 first downs while the Midshipmen were blanked in that category. San Diego State outgained Navy in the period, 201-71 in total yards.
That’s when Dobbs decided to go to work. Dobbs fired a 30-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Greg Jones to cut Navy’s deficit in half early in the second quarter. Hillman countered Navy’s touchdown with his second score on the night, rumbling 37-yards into the endzone to give San Diego State a 21-7 lead.
The two team’s see-saw scoring in the first half continued with Dobbs scoring on a one-yard touchdown run to make it 21-14 after two quarters of play. It was the 49th rushing touchdown of Dobbs’ storied career with Navy.
But there was a miss on a touchdown throw into the endzone in the third quarter on Navy’s opening drive that Dobbs wishes he could have completed. On fourth down at the San Diego State three-yard line, Dobbs called an excellent play-action pass that temporarily freed a receiver coming out of the backfield. However, Dobbs saw the ball fluttered out of his receiver’s hand.
Hillman then sealed the game for San Diego State when he hauled in a 15-yard scoring toss from Lindley early in the fourth quarter.