The San Diego State Aztecs went up 28-10 in the third quarter against the Fresno State Bulldogs after a 7-yd touchdown catch by Jesse Matthews. The Old Oil Can was basically on the bus about to head down the 5 freeway.
Then the Aztecs did everything they could to give the game away. At first, the Bulldogs did not seem to want the game, matching mistake for mistake.
Eventually, the Bulldogs got into a groove on both sides of the ball and completed the comeback for a 32-28 victory to keep the Old Oil Can in Fresno for another year.
“This one stings,” said SDSU head coach Brady Hoke on the postgame radio show, adding “not very good” when asked how he was feeling after the game. “We had plenty of opportunities. We, as coaches, need to do a better job.
They scored two touchdowns 13 seconds apart in the final 69 seconds, aided by an onsides kick recovery that neither Tyrell Shavers nor Jesse Matthews could corral before the Bulldogs’ Zane Pope did.
“We practice it all the time,” said Hoke about the onsides kick attempt. “Guys, try to make the play. We just didn’t execute.”
On the play after the onsides kick, Cal transfer Nikko Remigio caught a short pass, broke a tackle from Davaughn Celestine, and raced to the end zone untouched for a 37-yd touchdown to put the Bulldogs ahead for the final score.
Jordan Mims, who was held in check to only 32 rushing yards for 13 carries, scored from three yards out on the play before the onsides kick. A two-point conversion catch by Zane Pope made it 28-25.
The Aztecs (4-4, 2-2) two-game winning streak is snapped, and their chances to win their 22nd conference championship take a major hit with the loss. The Bulldogs (4-4, 3-1) are atop the West Division, tied with San Jose State, who they already beat earlier this season.
Fresno State star quarterback Jake Haener, who missed the past four games due to a severe ankle injury, made a surprise return to the starting lineup tonight in place of Logan Fife.
Haener completed 35 of 45 passes for 394 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions. Wide receiver Zane Pope led the way with a monster night, catching 11 passes for 151 yards. His eight-yard touchdown catch on the final play of the third quarter came after Jesse Matthews failed to catch a punt inside the ten-yard line, and Fresno State recovered at the 11.
Remigio finished with 126 yards on ten catches and two touchdowns. Jalen Moreno-Cropper added six catches for 67 yards.
The unbelievable story of once-quarterback, then-safety, now back-to-quarterback Jalen Mayden continues on. Mayden completed 19 of 24 passes for 291 yards (although 228 of those were in the first half) and two touchdowns. He threw his first two interceptions of the season, the second coming on a last-ditch effort deep throw over the middle after the Bulldogs took the final lead.
Mayden also rushed for 43 yards on eight carries and two touchdowns, including a 28-yarder on the first drive of the game.
USC transfer Kenan Christon caught two passes for 75 yards and a touchdown. Prior to this game, Christon only had four receptions for 16 yards. His 26-yard touchdown catch came on a very clever play call by OC Jeff Horton.
Mayden took the snap and ran forward as if it was a designed quarterback run with Christon as his lead blocker. Christon faked a block, ran past two defenders, and Mayden lobbed it to him for a catch and run to the end zone.
Haener was not the only star Bulldog to return from injury. All-Conference safety Evan Williams returned as the starter after missing time recently with an injury. Williams had eight tackles on the night, while Malachi Langley led the team with 12 tackles.
The Bulldogs’ defense came in only having forced four turnovers on the season (third-fewest in FBS) but came up with five in this one. In addition to Mayden’s two interceptions, the Aztecs lost three fumbles (Byrd, Matthews, and Mayden).
Defensive end David Perales, who came into the game leading the Mountain West in sacks and second in tackles for loss, sacked Mayden forcing a fumble that was recovered by the Bulldogs in the fourth quarter. It was Perales’ only tackle on the night.
Safety Cedarious Barfield started at boundary warrior in place of CJ Baskerville. Barfield started at field warrior for the first game of the season but was benched after that game in favor of walk-on Davaughn Celestine. Barfield started at boundary warrior for most of last season before an injury.
The Aztecs’ front six dominated this game until the final few minutes, constantly harassing Haener on almost every dropback. After entering the game with only 11 sacks through seven games, the Aztecs recorded seven tonight.
Linebacker Michael Shawcroft had ten tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks as he continues his spectacular season. Jonah Tavai added 2.5 sacks to go with six tackles.
The defense also buckled down after several turnovers by the Aztecs’ offense, holding the Bulldogs to only seven points off turnovers. They stopped a 4th and 1 run by Jordan Mims after a Jordan Byrd fumble, Noah Avinger intercepted a Haener pass in the end zone after Mayden’s first interception of the season, and Barfield blocked a field goal attempt after Mayden’s fumble.
What would have been the biggest play of the second half had the Aztecs held on to the lead came with the Aztecs backed up on their own 26 and facing a fourth and four. Punter Jack Browning took the snap in punt formation but ran to his right in a fake punt and used several blockers on the right side to scamper for 33 yards to the Fresno State 41. Matthews’ touchdown that made it 28-10 capped off that drive.
Browning’s career rushing numbers now stand at 72 yards on three carries. He ran for 13 yards and a touchdown on a fake field goal against Hawai’i last season and added a 26-yard run on a fake punt against Idaho State earlier this season.
Browning was shaken up after the play and did not kick the ensuing extra point or the kickoff after that drive, but later returned to punt in the fourth quarter.
Aztecs entered the game as one of the most penalty-ridden teams in FBS, averaging 8.43 penalties per game. At least for another game, that problem has not been corrected after committing eight penalties for 65 yards.
Two of those penalties came at the end of the first half by right tackle Josh Simmons. After SDSU reached the Fresno State 32-yd line and spiked the ball to possibly set up a 49-yd field goal attempt, Simmons pushed an open hand to the facemask of David Perales, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
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On the ensuing play, Simmons was called for a false start. The 20 yards led Hoke to kneel the ball to end the half and provide an earful to Simmons as the team headed off the field. Simmons was also called for a holding penalty on the first drive of the game and a false start in the second half.
The Bulldogs committed six penalties for 65 yards after entering the game averaging only 4.43 per game (13th in FBS).
After a two-game road trip, the Aztecs return home to host UNLV on November 5 at 4 pm for the annual Homecoming Game.
Avid sports fan and historian of basketball, baseball, football and soccer. UC San Diego and San Diego State alumni living in America’s Finest City. Diverse team following across multiple sports leagues, but Aztecs come first in college athletics.