It was the game Rashaad Penny has been primed for his entire college career.
Held back from huge yardage games by San Diego State's desire to balance the running load, Penny had no such restrictions on Saturday night in a 42-23 victory over Nevada at SDCCU Stadium.
Out of the race for the Mountain West championship, SDSU simply gave Penny the ball any way it could, and he did the rest -- in record-setting fashion.Penny had kick and punt returns for touchdowns and added two rushing scores to produce an astounding 429 yards in total offense. That surpassed the previous school record of 422 held by Marshall Faulk and was the ninth-highest total for a single game in FBS history.
Of note, Penny had a 70-yard TD run called back for holding.
Penny's scores: a 23-yard run on a broken play when he was supposed to pass the ball; a 70-yard return on the first punt team duty of his SDSU career; a 100-yard kick return -- the seventh of his career; and a 67-yard run.
"I'll say that it's one of the best performances -- if not the best performance -- I've ever witnessed on a football field," Aztecs head coach Rocky Long said.
The momentous night came on the same day one of Penny's grandparents died.
"It doesn't feel real at all," said Penny. "You've got a lot of amazing guys around you every day, and these amazing coaches who tell you you can do certain things. And you just believe in it.
"That's what I did tonight. I believed in myself. I believed in these guys. ... When you do things like this, it's surreal."
The performance could not have been more perfectly timed, with Penny being announced earlier in the week as a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award, which recognizes the top running back in college football.
No San Diego State player has ever earned the honor, but Penny now has to be considered among the frontrunners.
With 222 yards rushing on 24 carries against Nevada, Penny regained the national rushing lead in the FBS with 1,824 yards. He is 101 yards ahead of Stanford's Bryce Love, who was held to 101 yards on Friday in a win over Cal.
Penny also continued to climb up the SDSU record ladder.
He started the night as SDSU's No. 7 single-season rushing leader and finished it at No. 4. He moved past Marshall Faulk's sophomore year of 1992 (1,630) and D.J. Pumphrey's junior season of 2015 (1,653), and Ronnie Hillman's sophomore year of 2011 (1,711).
Penny is only 18 yards shy of catching No. 3 George Jones, who had 1,842 yards in 1995. Pumphrey set the single-season mark in 2016 with 2,133 yards, and now Penny has two games remaining to get 310 yards and pass the man he once backed up.
On the first score, with 3:45 left in the first quarter, Penny took a pitch from quarterback Christian Chapman, moved left, and cocked his left arm to throw. But receiver Micah Holder was blanketed. So Penny pulled up, reversed direction, and outran all pursuers for the TD to cut Nevada's lead to 10-7.
"I didn't want to see him throw that left-handed pass," Long said. "I've seen him throw it in practice. He's OK when there's nobody around him, but there were a lot of people around him at that time. He did the smart thing, just tuck it under and outrun them to the end zone."
The Aztecs held Nevada to three plays and out on the next possession, Penny fielded the punt and weaved through defenders and burst into the open for the 70-yard score.
The punt return for a TD was the first for SDSU since Damontae Kazee brought back a 66-yarder on Nov. 21, 2015, against UNLV.
Penny's 100-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter -- which gave SDSU a 35-23 lead after the Wolf Pack had pulled to within five points -- was historic in its own right.
The seven scoring returns for his career tied him for the most in FBS history. He also became only the second player and first since 1996 to have a kick return, punt return and rushing TD in one game. He is the first two achieve the feat with two rushing touchdowns.
This article is written by Tod Leonard from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.