WASHINGTON (AP) — So what if San Jose State lost its coach before the Military Bowl. David Fales was still the quarterback, and that was plenty.
The dart-throwing junior started strong and finished stronger in the wind and cold at RFK Stadium. Fales, who led the nation in completion percentage during the regular season, completed 33 of 43 passes for 395 yards and two touchdowns Thursday in the No. 24 Spartans’ 29-20 win over Bowling Green.
Fales led the drive that set up Austin Lopez’s 27-yard field goal with 4:43 remaining, and De’Leon Eskridge’s 1-yard run with 2:34 left provided the insurance. San Jose State (11-2), in the national rankings for the first time since 1975, capped the year with a seven-game winning streak for its first 11-win season since 1940, a remarkable turnaround for a program that was 1-12 just two years ago in Mike MacIntyre’s first season as coach.
But MacIntyre left earlier this month for a bigger payday at Colorado, leaving defensive coordinator Kent Baer in charge for the bowl. Baer was interested in the job full-time, but the school instead hired San Diego’s Ron Caragher, who attended the game as an observer.
Bowling Green (8-5) had a similar turnaround, improving from 2-10 in 2010 under coach Dave Clawson. A defense that allowed only 15.8 points per game in the regular season — ninth best among FBS schools — did a decent job against a San Jose State team that was averaging 35.3 points.
But give Fales enough chances, and he’ll find a way to put points on the board. He went over the 4,000-yard passing mark for the season, hitting Kyle Nunn for a 33-yard score to give the Spartans a first-quarter lead and finding the stutter-stepping Chandler Jones for an 18-yard reception that put San Jose State back in front, 19-13, in the third quarter.
Bowling Green retook the lead in the fourth quarter with a 68-yard drive, finished off by John Pettigrew’s 1-yard run with 10:26 remaining.
But Fales went 7 for 10 on a 68-yard drive that got well within range for Lopez, who had a perfect season — making all 17 of his field goal attempts. The Spartans then forced a turnover that led to Eskridge’s clinching touchdown.
Lopez was less fortunate as an emergency punter after Harrison Waid was injured on San Jose State’s first punt of the game. Lopez’s first punt was blocked, setting up a Bowling Green field goal.
It was the first of two blocked punts in the game. San Jose State’s Bene Benwikere got his hand on one in the second half. The ball went out of the end zone for a safety that cut Bowling Green’s lead to 13-12.
The Military Bowl was supposed to pit Army against an ACC team, but Army isn’t bowl-eligible and the ACC didn’t have enough bowl-eligible schools to fulfill its bowl tie-ins. As a result, there was little excitement for the game in the nation’s capital. The upper deck of RFK Stadium was virtually empty during the second half of the MAC-WAC matchup, and the attendance was announced as 17,835.