The San Diego Bowl Game Association’s two major productions — the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl and the National University Holiday Bowl — continue to deliver their share of holiday thrills for college football fans.
The two bowl games wrapped up their 2013 editions with Monday’s 36th annual Holiday Bowl between the 14th-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils and Texas Tech Red Raiders at Qualcomm Stadium. The ninth annual Poinsettia Bowl pitted Mountain West Conference-Mountain Division champion Utah State against 23rd-ranked Northern Illinois on Dec. 26, also at Qualcomm Stadium.
The two games combined to draw more than 75,000 fans and showcase the San Diego region at the national level with telecasts on ESPN.
South County resident Bruce Binkowski serves as executive director of the bowl game association; he remains high on the impact both bowl games have had on the regional sports scene.
“The Poinsettia Bowl has far exceeded our expectations and, as for the Holiday Bowl, it remains a San Diego institution,” Binkowski said.
A lot of work goes into both bowl games and, while the events themselves are put on in December, planning continues on a year-round basis.
The Holiday Bowl has earned a reputation as one of the nation’s most exciting college bowl games and actually set the tone in its first game in 1978 when an unheralded Navy team defeated a heavily favored BYU squad.
The game even determined the national championship in 1984 when an undefeated BYU team (13-0) topped the Michigan Wolverines.
The Holiday Bowl continues to attract some of the top teams in the country and, even if it never fits into the NCAA championship playoff structure, it will remain one of the jewels in college football’s bowl game hierarchy.
Monday’s contest featured a 37-23 upset victory by the Red Raiders in one of the more entertaining match-ups in the series.
“It will continue being what it is, which is a San Diego institution,” Binkowski said in reference to how the bowl game might fit into the planned new football bowl game championship playoff series. “Next year we’re entering into a new six-year agreement with the Big Ten Conference and renewing our agreement with the Pac-12 Conference for another six years, so we should have some very exciting match-ups.”
The Holiday Bowl currently matches the second selection from the Pac-12 with the fourth selection from the Big-12, after BCS matchups.
This year’s game pitted Arizona State from the Pac-12 and Texas Tech from the Big-12.
The Holiday Bowl previously enjoyed a tie-in to the Big Ten from 1986-94, and nine Big Ten teams have played in the bowl game, beginning in 1979 with a victory by Indiana. Other Big Ten teams to appear in the Holiday Bowl include Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State.
Big Ten Conference Commissioner James E. Delany stated in a bowl game release that the conference is pleased to return to the Holiday Bowl.
“During the bowl game evaluation process we heard our director of athletics and head coaches tell us that the Holiday Bowl was a reward destination they wanted the conference to be a part of,” Delany stated.
“The Holiday Bowl has a long history and tradition of managing bowl games that have tremendous appeal to participating teams and their fans, and we are excited by the opportunity to return to an area of Southern California that has such a strong and vibrant Big Ten football following.”
The Holiday Bowl is entering its 16th year as a partner with the Pac-12. Eight of the current 12 teams have appeared in the game, including ASU (1985, 2002, 2007, 2013), Arizona (1998, 2009), Cal (2004, 2006, 20011), Washington (1996, 1999, 2001, 2010), Washington State (1991, 2003), UCLA (2012), Oregon (2000, 2005, 2008) and Colorado (1996).
“The Pac-12 has been a tremendous partner through the years,” Bill Geppert, 2013 bowl game president, stated in a bowl game release. “The enthusiasm of their fans is matched only by the high-octane entertainment their teams have provided. We’re ecstatic to continue this relationship.”
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott called the Holiday Bowl a “longtime valued partner of the Pac-12.”
“There has always been a buzz about this game throughout our conference and we anticipate this new partnership with the Big Ten will provide many exciting and memorable games for years to come,” Scott stated in the bowl game release.
The mission of the non-profit San Diego Bowl Game Association has been to generate tourism, exposure, economic benefit and civic pride for the San Diego region and its citizens by presenting entertaining bowl games and festivals of events.
Since its inception in 1978, the San Diego Bowl Game Association has created an impact of $668 million. The addition of the Poinsettia Bowl was designed to increase the economic impact to the region during the pre-Christmas period, with the Holiday Bowl providing the impact to the region during post-Christmas period.
In its eight previous games, the Poinsettia Bowl has boosted the local economy to the tune of $77 million during the traditionally slow week (of hotel bookings) before Christmas.
The 2013 game attracted an announced crowd of 23,408. The record attendance for the game was 48,049 for the 2010 contest when San Diego State defeated Navy, 35-14, to win the bowl title.
“Attendance has been consistent in the 20,000 to 30,000 range and every now and then we’ll get a larger turnout,” Binkowski said. “Because of how the schedule worked this year (in 2013), it was actually a post-Christmas date but next year it will return to its pre-Christmas date. In terms of the match-ups, the level of competition has been high.”
The Mountain West Conference has served as a major tie-in to the Poinsettia Bowl since the game’s inception. SDSU has played in two games, losing to BYU in 2012.
Other MWC Poinsettia Bowl game participants have included Colorado State (2005), TCU (2005, 2008, 2011), Utah (2007, 2009) and Boise State (2008). The 2008 match-up between current MWC member Boise State (then a member of the Western Athletic Conference) and TCU provided the San Diego region with its largest economic impact in terms of hotel rooms booked.
Suiting up in that 2008 game for TCU was future NFL Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who collected 276 all-purpose yards to earn the offensive MVP award in the Horned Frogs’ 17-16 victory against the previously undefeated Broncos.
Overall, MWC teams have compiled a 7-2 record.
Binkowski said the Poinsettia Bowl continues to evolve in a positive fashion. The match-ups have been set for the next six years, with the MWC continuing to provide a tie-in for one of the participating teams. Opponents will include Navy in 2014, Army in 2015, BYU in 2016 and 2018 and a team from the Mid-American Conference in both 2017 and 2018, pending bowl eligibility status.
“It’s been a great partnership with the Mountain West Conference,” Binkowski said. “It allows San Diego State to have a chance to play in the game, not every year, of course, but every few years.”
This year’s Poinsettia Bowl game pitted the second choice from the MWC (Utah State) against a team from the MAC. In fact, Northern Illinois finished one win away from qualifying for a BCS bowl game.
The Huskies carried a 12-1 record into the 2013 game and came within the recovery on an onside kick in the game’s closing minutes of perhaps closing the season with a 13-win season.
Binkowski attributed a couple of things to the exciting contests generated by the two regional bowl games.
“I think part of it is the luck of the draw but also the quality of teams that come here,” he said.
The two bowl games also maintain strong community ties. The San Diego Make-A-Wish Foundation remains the official beneficiary of the Poinsettia Bowl. Bowl game officials presented a check for $22,000 to the foundation at the Dec. 26 game, with one dollar from every ticket sold donated to the foundation.
The colorful pre-game events once again included a parade of wishes for the wish children and their families in attendance. The wish kids who served as honorary team captains both hailed from La Mesa — James for Northern Illinois and Jacob for Utah State. Both boys posed for photos with the teams’ respective mascots on the sideline.
The more established Holiday Bowl fields a larger scope of pre-game festivities, including the San Diego Port Big Bay Balloon Parade, dubbed “America’s largest balloon parade,” as well as selections for the Dr. Pepper Ten Most Inspirational Award, a $10,000 student scholarship award and recognition for high school football players of the year in nearby Mexico.
Monday’s Holiday Bowl halftime extravaganza featured 2,000 youths from across the nation in a choreographed musical salute set to a massive fireworks show.
Patrick Henry tennis player Victoria Robertson received the 2013 Dr. Pepper Ten Most Inspirational Award, which is presented by the Kiwanis Club of San Diego. She received a $2,000 scholarship for being selected.
Meanwhile, Poway’s Breena Sheehan received the $10,000 Holiday Bowl student scholarship.
The two Mexican players recognized for their feats on the gridiron included Alejandro Mendoza Ruelas of Osos CETYS Universidad Tijuana as the offensive player of the year and David Chavez Sanchez from Zorros Mexicali Resena de Biografia as the defensive player of the year.
Ruelas, a quarterback, is also an accomplished tae-kwon-do red belt, while Sanchez helped both his club team and high school team to recent state championships. Each player received a $1,000 grant for their respective schools.
The San Diego Bowl Game Association has created its own Hall of Fame. Inductees to the 2013 class included Kyle Basler (Washington State, punter, Holiday Bowl 2003), Reggie Campbell (Navy, running back, Poinsettia Bowl 2005, 2007) and Richard Circuit (board of directors 1986-present, Holiday Bowl president 1994).
Campbell, a running back, stamped his name all over the inaugural Poinsettia Bowl by scoring an NCAA record-tying five touchdowns to lead the Midshipmen to a 51-30 win over Colorado State.
From Grossmont Griffin to Poinsettia Bowl Offensive MVP: three cheers for DeMartino
It was a homecoming beyond expectation for former Grossmont College football player Joey DeMartino, who scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown in the Utah State Aggies’ 21-14 victory against the 23rd-ranked Northern Illinois Huskies in the ninth annual San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl game played Dec. 26 at Qualcomm Stadium.
DeMartino scored on a one-yard run with 4:14 left in the fourth quarter to boost the Aggies to a 21-7 lead.
The score stood up as the game-winner after the Huskies responded with a matching touchdown with 1:44 remaining in the quarter to draw to within seven points on the scoreboard. Northern Illinois (12-2) then attempted an onside kick that was recovered by Utah State (9-5) to seal the victory.
An All-Mountain West Conference honorable mention selection, DeMartino rushed 23 times for 143 net yards to earn the bowl game’s Most Valuable Offensive Player award while teammate Jake Doughty, a First Team All-MWC senior linebacker, received the Most Valuable Defensive Player award after collecting eight tackles and one forced fumble.
“It’s crazy going from four wins to three bowl games and winning two of them -- it’s been great to watch this team grow over the last four years,” said DeMartino, a redshirt senior running back, who led Utah State with with 1,078 net rushing yards and scored 13 touchdowns in 13 games. “For the seniors to win 31 games in four years has been amazing. It’s great to be back home and lead my team to a win and, to get the MVP award, this is beyond anything I could have dreamed of.”
A member of Grossmont College’s 2009 US Bank Beach Bowl championship team, DeMartino set a Poinsettia Bowl game record for longest rushing play from scrimmage with a 58-yard run late in the first quarter and ranks second in bowl game history with 143 rushing yards.
The former Mt. Carmel Sundevil MVP set the tone for ball-carriers in this year’s Poinsettia Bowl game by rushing three times for 60 yards in the first quarter and 71 yards on five carries at halftime. His 58-yard run led to a 39-yard field goal by teammate Nick Diaz to boost the Aggies to a 6-0 lead early in the second quarter.
But DeMartino’s worth came in the fourth quarter when the former Griffin Offensive MVP and Second-Team All-National Division/Southern Conference JC award-winner helped the Aggies chew up the clock with 53 yards on 11 carries, culminating in his touchdown run.
“My coach told me at the beginning of the fourth quarter that he was going to hand the ball to me, to put the team on my back,” DeMartino said.
This was the first appearance by the Aggies in the Poinsettia Bowl, which matched teams from the Mountain West Conference (Utah State) and Mid-American Conference (Northern Illinois).
The Aggies won the MWC-Mountain Division title to earn a berth in the inaugural MWC championship game against MWC-West Division winner Fresno State on Dec. 7.
DeMartino had 18 carries for 54 yards in the MWC title game – a 24-17 loss to the 20th-ranked Bulldogs in Fresno.
Utah State head coach Matt Wells underscored the satisfying nature of the bowl game victory by his team, which lost four key offensive starters to injury over the course of the 2013 season. He called this the “winningest senior class in Utah State history.”
“To beat a team like that on a national stage is big-time for these kids and the way they did it with typical fashion blue collar and toughness and tremendous defense the whole game and found a way to run the ball at the end of the game. I’m proud of these guys and proud to be their coach,” Wells stated in a post-game press conference.
“We were so thin, just to be able to manufacture points in any way possible was our job, to score one more than them ... Our kids stepped up and knocked it out of the park.”
After leading Grossmont with 952 rushing yards (seventh in the Southern California Football Association) on 143 carries (an average of 5.8 yards per carry) to go with six rushing touchdowns, DeMartino transferred to Utah State. As a sophomore in 2010, he carried the ball 29 times for 157 yards and scored one touchdown.
He red-shirted the 2011 season with the Aggies. On special teams last season, he was credited with five tackles, including three in a game against Idaho.
Injuries to teammates placed DeMartino in the spotlight this season.
“Words can’t describe that feeling at the end, Our seniors are going out like this is the best feeling in the world and putting our program on the map and showing that we can win in big-time environments ... it means everything.”
MWC teams improved to 7-2 in the nine Poinsettia Bowl games while the MAC dropped to 0-2. The game proved to be a classic match-up of defene versus offense.
Utah State ranked among the top 25 defenses in the nation in five categories, including seventh in the nation in scoring defense (17.3 points per game). On the night the Aggies defense recorded a forced fumble, interception, two sacks, two missed field goals and a turnover on downs.
Meanwhile, Northern Illinois entered the Poinsettia Bowl game with the nation’s fifth-best offense. Heismann Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch had rushed for a NCAA record 1,881 yards by a quarterback and passed for 2,676 yards, with 22 rushing touchdowns and 33 passing touchdowns to his credit.
Lynch was 20-for-35 and 216 passing yards and one touchdown to Juwan Brescacin (three catches, 30 yards). Lynch scored the Huskies’ go-ahead touchdown midway through the second quarter on a one-yard sneak. He rushed 18 times in the game for 39 net yards with the one touchdown.
The first half ended with Northern Illinois holding a 7-6 lead. However, Utah State scored the opening two touchdowns of the second half to lead by 14 points.
Brian Suite intercepted Lynch to put the Aggies on a short field at the Huskies 31-yard line early in the third quarter. Utah State freshman quarterback Darrell Garretson capped the drive with a five-yard scoring pass to Brandon Swindall to put the Aggies in front 13-7.
Utah State took a 21-7 lead when Bruce Natson made a two-point conversion catch following DeMartino’s touchdown.
The San Diego Make-A-Wish Foundation remains the official beneficiary of the Poinsettia Bowl game. This year, $22,000 -- one dollar for every ticket sold – was donated to the organization. Honorary captains for both teams were a pair of wish kids from La Mesa – James for Northern Illinois and Jacob for Utah State. Both boys posed for photos on the sideline with the teams’ respective mascots.