SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Chastin West's punt return for a touchdown gave Fresno State just the spark it needed to boost its bowl chances.
After West tied the game with his 49-yard return late in the third quarter, the Bulldogs relied entirely on the run to close out a 24-10 victory Friday night over San Jose State in what might have been a bowl elimination game.
"That gave us a chance to turn the momentum," coach Pat Hill said. "Right after the kick we went to our three tight end formation and played smashmouth, old-fashioned football. I was really proud of the way they responded because earlier in the game we couldn't even get to the line of scrimmage."
The Bulldogs (7-4, 4-3 WAC) ran the ball on 24 of their final 25 plays, getting two fourth-quarter touchdowns from Anthony Harding to beat the Spartans (6-6, 4-4) for the 14th time in the past 15 meetings.
Hill said he used just three running plays and the throwback formation that included no wide receivers after watching his offense gain just 54 yards in the first 40 minutes.
"That's probably the best feeling ever, just knowing we're going to pound the ball and say no passing," said Harding, who finished with 99 yards. "Just run the ball downhill. That's Bulldog football. That's something we love to do."
Both teams came into the game with the six wins necessary for going to a bowl game but were hoping to bolster their credentials with a strong performance on national television and in front of several bowl representatives.
With the WAC possibly having six bowl eligible teams and only three automatic berths, this game was crucial to the postseason hopes for both teams. But before that, the Bulldogs have a chance to spoil No. 9 Boise State's year in the regular season finale next week in Idaho.
"We just know that we're going to a bowl," Harding said. "That's what is important to us right now. Obviously we didn't get our WAC championship or BCS run, but there's still a game left and we can finish on a high note."
The Bulldogs had been unable to move the ball at all before West's return of a short punt by Philip Zavala tied the game at 10 late in the third quarter.
After forcing a punt by San Jose State (6-6, 4-4) on the next drive, Fresno State went to its ground game, running the ball on all 11 plays of a 69-yard drive. Harding's 8-yard run gave the Bulldogs a 17-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. Harding added a 21-yard touchdown run with 5:02 left that made it 24-10 and put the game away.
"It's an empty feeling," San Jose State cornerback Christopher Owens said. "Give them all the credit. We couldn't stop the run in the fourth quarter, Their offensive line and backs were tremendous today."
Running back Brandon Rutley threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to David Richmond on an option play in the first quarter for San Jose State's only touchdown. After losing four of their final five games, the Spartans must now wait and hope that a bowl will still be interested in inviting them.
"We are bowl eligible for the second time in three years, but we couldn't push it over the top," coach Dick Tomey said. "That was very disappointing. We had every chance to win and couldn't make enough plays."
Fresno State could have found itself in a similar situation, but managed to pull it out after committing three first-half turnovers and getting a 5-for-18 passing performance from Tom Brandstater.
The Spartans made plenty of mistakes of their own. Jared Strubeck missed two field goals and San Jose State committed 10 penalties for 88 yards.
Sean Flynn made his first career start in his final regular season game, playing for the injured Kyle Reed. Flynn finished 20-for-36 for 170 yards. Yonus Davis returned after missing the previous two games with an ankle injury but gained only 36 yards on 12 carries.
The Spartans' lone offensive highlight came a fumble by Vince Pascoe gave them the ball at the 35. On the next play, Flynn took the shotgun snap and pitched a lateral to Rutley, who threw a strike to Richmond for the first score of the game.
The teams traded field goals after that, giving the Spartans a 10-3 halftime lead.