Aztecs dominate Air Force early, win 20-14

Credit: SDSU Athletics

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Credit: SDSU Athletics

An eager San Diego State Aztecs football team traveled to Colorado to battle the Air Force Falcons in what might be a preview of the MWC Championship later this season.

The Aztecs came in with a perfect 6-0 record, while the Falcons sat at 6-1 to begin the 2021 season. Air Force’s only loss came at the hands of Utah State early in the season in a high-scoring affair. SDSU shot up the national rankings to the No. 21 spot and were anxious to prove themselves against a seemingly formidable opponent.

In a defensive battle through the first quarter of the game, SDSU held a 3-0 lead on Saturday night.

Unfortunately, the Aztecs started the game minus their star tailback as Greg Bell sat for an undisclosed injury. Thankfully, for SDSU, the team is blessed with a fantastic group of ball carriers to replace the San Diego native. Jordan Byrd, Kaegun Williams, and Chance Bell shared the workload for Greg Bell in the first 3o minutes of the game. Williams scored on a short gain in the second quarter giving SDSU a 10-0 lead proving the depth in the position.

The Aztecs showed tons of discipline on the defensive side of the ball containing Air Force on the ground. The Falcons utilize a triple-option offense which is rarely seen and difficult to defend. Air Force enjoys wearing down their opponent by continually pounding the ball on the ground. San Diego State responded to the challenge and held the Falcons to under 100 yards on total offense in the first half. Most importantly, the Aztecs kept Air Force out of third and short situations with early penetration and containment. The defense also continually punished Air Force ball carriers and forced multiple turnovers. Air Force is not built to throw the ball, and SDSU practically dared the Falcons to try. At the half, SDSU proudly owned a 13-0 lead over Air Force.

“I just think it was a good week of preparation,” LB Michael Shawcroft said postgame. “The coaching staff put in a game plan. It was just something we had to execute. Everybody knows what they do. They run the ball really well. They are a really tough team to play. Nothing but respect for them … our coaches made it really simple for us and let us play our game.”

In the first half of the game, 22 out of the first 27 snaps from the Aztecs’ offense came from the Air Force side of the field. An excellent recipe for stopping the triple-option is by keeping your offense on the field and earning rest for your defense. SDSU owned the time of possession clock and accomplished their goal in the first half of the game. They kept the Falcons on their heels and frustrated them.

Lucas Johnson displayed trouble with the touch on his pass early in the game as he missed several throws high. The thin mountain air may have had something to do with it. However, Johnson was able to adjust as he began throwing a tighter spiral with more accuracy. The signal-caller on offense is showing great poise as he commanded his team efficiently against a very tough defense.

The second half started with the Aztecs in possession of the ball. Greg Bell made a surprise appearance after being out the whole first half of the game. SDSU dominated Air Force, driving down the field in a little under four minutes of action. On a first-down call, Chance Bell banged himself into the endzone from the four-yard line as SDSU took a 20-0 lead. The team appeared to be in cruise control on both sides of the ball at this point.

Falcons’ quarterback Haaziq Daniels left the game in the third quarter and did not return. He was banged up on a tackle in the third quarter. However, a controversial call gave the Falcons hope late in the third quarter as a fourth-down pass was initially ruled incomplete, but was overturned into a catch, fumble and recovery for an Air Force touchdown. The drive was led by the team’s backup quarterback Warren Bryan as Dalton King grabbed his first reception of the season. At this point, SDSU held a 20-7 lead.

“Oh yeah, there’s no doubt about it,” Coach Hoke said postgame when asked if he would send the tape of the controversial play to league officials. “From my angle and from my opinion, I didn’t think it was a touchdown.”

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With their starting quarterback out and the team down big in the fourth quarter, Air Force gathered enough offense to drive down the field.  The new quarterback, Bryan, displayed a good arm that caught the Aztecs’ defense off guard. The Falcons brought the game to a 20-14 score, and suddenly SDSU fans were squirming in their chairs.

After a quick three and out, Air Force got the ball back. It looked like the the Falcons were going to keep their momentum going, but the refs had the courage to call an obvious chop block, and the stout SDSU defense was able to hold Air Force with two minutes left in the game. The Falcons punted to the Aztecs with 1:43 left on the clock. However, SDSU never gave them the ball back as the Kaegun Williams and the running game was able to earn a big first down for the Aztecs.

“Whoever is in there, I trust to get the job done,” Chance Bell said postgame. “Kaegun Williams going in there at the end of the game and getting that first down. I had no doubt in my mind, he was going to get that for us.”

For SDSU, the overall score is a slight disappointment. This is not the first time SDSU dominated an opponent early only to let them back into the game. The score of Saturday’s game really did not display the effort of the team and that is tragic. The Aztecs must finish their opponent when they have the chance if they want this Cinderella run to continue in 2021.

The Aztecs face Fresno State next week.

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