Aztecs open season with 20-13 home victory

Ohio QBs were pounded all night by SDSU's pass rush.(PJ Panebianco/EVT)

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Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

The San Diego State Aztecs began their 101st season of football by defeating the Ohio Bobcats, 20-13, in front of 23,867 fans at Snapdragon Stadium. The Aztecs avenged their only loss in 17 tries to a current MAC member after losing to the Bobcats in the 2018 Frisco Bowl.

“It’s great to start the season with a win,” said SDSU head coach Brady Hoke postgame. “We talked about this being a celebration tonight for all the work (the players have) done since January.”

The beginning 29 minutes of the game did not look like much of a celebration and looked similar to games the Aztecs played for most of last season. The defense kept the opposition to only six points, while the offense couldn’t muster anything after a good opening drive field goal. 

It appeared to be getting worse as the Bobcats drove inside the Aztecs’ 25 for an end-of-half score to extend their lead. 

But the defense flipped the momentum. Senior safety Cedarious Barfield intercepted an errant pass at the 22-yard line and returned it to the 29 with 44 seconds remaining. 

“It was a great play,” said Barfield postgame about his interception. “Coach Mattix puts us in the best position to succeed, and we just have to make the plays.”

The Aztecs offense sprung to life, taking the ball 71 yards on seven plays for a touchdown and a 10-6 halftime lead. Facing a 3rd and 6 from the 13-yard line with only six seconds remaining, Mayden dropped back to pass. After not liking the matchup on the outside, he looked over the middle and found TE Mark Redman wide-open for the score with no time remaining. 

It was a dicey decision to hold on to the ball after the first read was covered, as it would have prevented a field goal attempt to at least salvage three points. Making the connection with Redman for seven paid off as the Aztecs held on to the lead the rest of the way. 

Mayden finished 17 of 27 for 164 yards and two touchdowns. Most importantly, he did not commit a turnover. Redman led the team with five catches and 62 receiving yards and caught a second touchdown in the fourth quarter. 

The Bobcats outgained the Aztecs 380 to 309. 

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

Kurtis Rourke, the reigning MAC Offensive Player of the Year, returned from a torn ACL and started the contest. He completed 8 of 10 passes for 75 yards before leaving the game after getting shaken up on a sack. 

CJ Harris, who played the final games of last season after Rourke’s ACL injury, took over at QB for the remainder of the game. Harris completed 18 of 42 passes for 203 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. 

The Bobcats held the 8th-best turnover margin in the country last year, but the Aztecs won the battle on Saturday, 3-1. The Aztecs’ sole turnover came on a Jaylon Armstead fumble in the first quarter. 

Barfield noted that coach Hoke emphasized turnover margin greatly in preparation for this game. 

The Aztecs maintained their 10-6 lead through the end of the third quarter despite the Bobcats dominating the time of possession, 27 to 13 minutes, through the first 40 minutes of the game. 

When asked postgame about that large differential up to that point, Hoke cited the poor tackling or lack of physicality by the defense.

“First half, we didn’t tackle anybody,” Hoke said. “They ran the ball up and down the field. I don’t think we played physically or well enough defensively in the first half.” 

“I wasn’t feeling great about our defense. We (have) work to do.”

The Aztecs then completed two drives of longer than six minutes, adding ten points on the scoreboard.  

The first drive ended with a 21-yard field goal after Armstead took his first carry since his fumble 48 yards into Bobcats’ territory. He added 20 more yards on the drive, including a 4th and 2 conversion.

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After a quick 3-and-out, the Aztecs’ offense utilized the passing game to drive down the field for a score. Two completions to Redman (11, 23), followed by one each to Brionne Penny (9) and Brooks (12), had the Aztecs down to the Bobcats’ 15. After a Christon reception for another first down to the 5, Mayden found Redman wide open in the back of the end zone for their second touchdown connection on the night for a 20-6 lead with 5:39 remaining. 

Redman said postgame that the offensive players spoke at halftime and vowed to change things around offensively. 

“We wanted to show the offense can do what it is supposed to do,” Redman added. 

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

The Bobcats didn’t give up, marching down the field and scoring their first touchdown of the season on a Miles Cross 3-yard reception to cut the lead to seven with 1:59 left. On the previous play, safety Marcus Ratcliffe picked off a pass in the end zone and ran it back 100 yards for a touchdown, but a roughing the passer call on Cody Moon negated it, allowing Cross’ touchdown on the ensuing play.  

The onside kick attempt bounced out of bounds, but the Aztecs eventually relinquished the ball back to the Bobcats at their 35 on a Mayden run attempt instead of attempting a pooch punt to pin Ohio back.

New Zealand Williams’ interception with one second remaining finally sealed the victory for the Aztecs.

Armstead led the Aztecs with 78 rushing yards (eight carries), and Christon added 45 (11 carries), although 33 of those were on the first drive of the game. 

Sieh Bangura led the Bobcats with 65 rushing yards, and Sam Wiglusz led them with ten catches for 103 yards. 

Jack Browning made 2 of 3 field goals on the night and averaged 56.3 yards per punt on three attempts. Gianni Spetic also made 2 of 3 field goals for the Bobcats, while punter Jared Wheatly only averaged 33.7 yards per punt on three attempts. 

Linebackers Cody Moon and Trey White combined to force the Aztecs’ first turnover of the season. Moon blitzed and hit Harris, causing a fluttering pass into the arms of White as he fell to the ground. It was White’s first career interception.

Moon led the defense with 12 tackles, flying around the field and looking to hit anybody in sight.

When asked postgame which defensive players he could feel tonight, Hoke responded, “Cody Moon, good and bad,” adding he needs to be more disciplined with a late hit on a quarterback on Ratcliffe’s interception. 

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

“But he’s a good football player. I felt him as much as anybody.” 

Linebacker Zyrus Fiaseu led with two tackles for loss (and one sack), while cornerback Noah Tumblin had three pass breakups and five tackles (second highest on the team). 

Ratcliffe became the fifth true freshman to start on defense since 2009 and the first at the aztec safety position. 

Starting RT Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson was not dressed for the game. According to a source, the senior is unavailable for the first two games of the season due to a school violation dating back to last year. Washington transfer Myles Murao started at RT in place of BCD. 

WR Phillippe Wesley, who had a great fall camp and was expected to start and contribute in the passing game, missed the game due to injury. 

The Aztecs return to Snapdragon Stadium next Saturday night to play Idaho State. Kickoff is at 7:30pm. 

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