David Fales rewrote many of the passing entries in his first season at San Jose State University. The junior kept it going in the 2012 Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman. Fales, the most accurate passer in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season, completed 33 of 43 passes for two touchdowns and a Military Bowl-record 395 yards, as the No. 24-ranked Spartans knocked off Bowling Green State University, 29-20, before 17,835 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., on Thursday afternoon.
Fales led the Spartans to 10 points in the final five minutes of a game that featured four second-half lead changes.
“Our receivers were making great plays, De’Leon [Eskridge] is catching with one hand and there’s just a lot of great plays out there,” Fales said. “I think it just attests to this team and we’re really resilient.”
It was a fitting end to a breakthrough season for San Jose State. The Spartans finished 11- 2, their winningest season since going 11-1 in 1940. The team also ended 2012 on a seven-game winning streak, its longest run since winning eight straight in 1987.
Not only were the Spartans the first ranked team to play in the Military Bowl, they almost certainly will finish the season ranked for the first time.
“This whole season we’ve been a great second-half team and we were a great?second-half team today,” said San Jose State Interim Head Coach Kent Baer, who guided the team in the Military Bowl after former coach Mike MacIntyre was hired by Colorado earlier this month. “It seems like our kids really do a great job of listening at halftime and the coaches do an unbelievable job from the press box and the sideline about some of the adjustments we make, but it’s our players who have done it.”
San Jose State, which entered the game averaging more than 35 points per game, was poised to dictate a shootout. The Spartans opened the scoring five minutes into the first quarter when Fales hit junior tight end Kyle Nunn for a 33-yard touchdown pass that made it 7-0.
Bowling Green (8-5), however, with the nation’s seventh-best defense entering the game, clamped down, and kept San Jose State out of the end zone for the next 38 minutes. In the meantime, the Falcons used two Tyler Tate field goals (28 and 33 yards, respectively) to pull within 7-6 on the first play of the second quarter. The latter of the two scores was set up by a blocked punt by sophomore Gabe Martin.
San Jose State answered with a 36-yard field goal from Austin Lopez 1 minute 40 seconds before halftime to extend the Spartans’ lead to 10-6. Fales helped Lopez greatly the play before with a 16-yard completion to Chandler Jones on third-and-22 from the Bowling Green 35. Jones slipped three potential tacklers to give Lopez a closer shot.
Bowling Green’s defense came up big again on San Jose State’s first drive of the second half. Sophomore defensive lineman Charlie Walker sacked Fales, and forced a fumble, which senior defensive tackle Chris Jones, the Mid-Atlantic Conference Defensive Player of the Year, recovered and returned 21 yards to the Spartans’ 8.
Anthon Samuel ran it in on the next play. His 11th rushing touchdown of the season put the Falcons ahead for the first time, 13-10, less than three minutes into the third quarter.
While Bowling Green muzzled each of San Jose State’s next two drives, the Spartans got a boost from their special teams when junior Bene Benwikere blocked a Bowling Green punt out of the end zone for a safety. It cut the Falcons’ lead to 13-12.
On the ensuing San Jose State possession, Fales completed 4 of 5 passes for 62 yards, the last of which went 18 yards to Jones for a touchdown. The Spartans went up 19-13 with just over two minutes left in the third quarter.
Bowling Green then answered with its best drive of the game, early in the fourth quarter. The eight-play, 68-yard march was highlighted by a 34-yard run on third down by senior John Pettigrew, who scored on the next play from one yard out to put Bowling Green back in front, 20-19, with 10:26 to play.
Fales, though, was unfazed. He completed 7 of 10 passes on the next drive for 80 yards, to set up a 27-yard field goal from Lopez, which gave the Spartans the lead for good, 22-20 with 4:43 to play. The freshman finished the season perfect on all 17 of his field-goal attempts.
After Bowling Green took over, San Jose State’s defense then came up with its biggest play of the game. Spartans senior defensive end Travis Johnson, the Western Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year, added to his conference record with his 32nd career sack, which forced Bowling Green quarterback Matt Schilz to fumble. San Jose State junior Keith Smith recovered it at the Falcons’ 23.
Five plays later, Eskridge, a senior, scored his 11th rushing touchdown of the season to cap the scoring with 2:34 to play. San Jose State’s sideline began to celebrate a victory and a season unlike any other in more than half a century.
“We had a great week in Washington,” said Bowling Green Head Coach Dave Clawson. “We want to thank the entire Military Bowl staff. Everything they did was first class. We had a great week, but we are obviously disappointed with the outcome of today’s game.”