By Jesse Lima special for the Las Vegas Bowl
The 2016 Rossi T. Ralenkotter Most Valuable Player Award went to Las Vegas native Donnel Pumphrey, who graduated from Canyon Springs High School in 2013. The San Diego State University running back broke the FBS all-time rushing record during the fourth quarter, passing Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne who previously held the record with 6,397 yards from 1996-99.
Storybook endings aren’t written much better than this. Pumphrey ended his decorated college career in front of his family and friends with a win, an all-time FBS record and an MVP honor.
The Aztecs, who finished as the Mountain West Conference Champions, overcame a 10-0 deficit early on and defeated the Houston Cougars, 34-10.
Pumphrey finished with 115 yards on 19 carries and scored one touchdown on a 32-yard scamper in the third quarter. He entered Saturday needing 108 rushing yards to break the record.
Early on, it looked like a longshot as during the first quarter, Pumphrey had -1 rushing yard on the stat sheet after being bottled up by a stifling Cougars’ defensive line.
“Those guys on the other side definitely did not want me to break the record,” Pumphrey said. “After the first quarter, I started to find some space and my offensive linemen were ready for the task ahead.”
After the less-than-stellar first quarter, Pumphrey went for 116 yards on 12 carries the rest of the way. His record-breaking scamper came on the Aztecs’ first play from the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter. After the play, Pumphrey was mobbed on the sideline by his teammates.
“I heard all of the fans chanting and my teammates were all pumped up! I thought I was gone on the play, but then I got tackled.” Pumphrey said when talking about his record-breaking run.
On the other side of the ball, the Aztecs’ defense was led by freshman Ron Smith, junior Kameron Kelly, and senior Calvin Munson, who all finished with at least one interception. Smith finished with 10 tackles and returned his one interception to the end zone, Kelly finished with two interceptions, and Munson finished with eight tackles along with his one interception.
“We were all so pumped,” Munson said when talking about the seniors. “Finishing as the Mountain West Champs and the Las Vegas Bowl Champs is a great way to go out. It was a blast out there.”
“Coaches do not win games,” SDSU head coach Rocky Long said. “With great players like DJ (Pumphrey) and Calvin (Munson), all we have to do is make sure they’re in the right shape and they go out and do the rest.”
Donnel Pumphrey will now enter the 2017 draft along with a very stacked class of running backs but with the all-time FBS rushing record under his belt.
“I feel blessed to be able to end my college career where everything started.”