The San Diego State Aztecs rode a big rushing attack, and stellar special teams play to a 38-7 victory over the Idaho State Bengals. The win marked the first ever for SDSU at Snapdragon Stadium and the eighth consecutive against an FCS opponent.
Quarterback Braxton Burmeister completed 15 of 26 passes for 108 yards and one touchdown, but his biggest success came on the ground, rushing for 80 yards and a touchdown. As a team, the Aztecs rushed for 380 yards. With the victory, they are 53-2 in their last 55 games when rushing for over 200 yards.
Tyler Vander Waal, transfer quarterback from Wyoming, completed 2 of 5 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown for the Bengals before an injury on a sack by Daniel Okpoko forced him to be carted off the field and not return. Backup Hunter Hays completed 18 of 30 passes for 140 yards before being relieved near the end of the game.
The game’s opening drive felt like a sequel to last week’s game against Arizona. The Bengals scored on a 75-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Xavier Guillory on the second play of the game. Guillory broke free on a short pass over the middle and raced past two defenders all the way to the end zone.
“Very frustrating, very shocked,” said SDSU head coach Brady Hoke when asked his thoughts after the play.
While the Aztecs’ defense was figuring itself out, its special teams gave them a huge boost in the first half. Preseason Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Year returned a punt 66 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at seven. It was Byrd’s third career return touchdown, but first as a punt returner. It was also the team’s seventh non-offensive touchdown over the last two seasons.
The rushing offense took hold from there. Two big touchdown runs, first by Burmeister (47 yards) and then by Byrd (53 yards), gave the Aztecs a 21-7 lead they would never relinquish.
If Byrd was the star of the game, specialist Jack Browning was right behind him. He kicked six punts for a 47.5 average. Five of those punts were downed or went out of bounds inside the seven-yard line (two at the one-yard line.)
He also ran 26 yards for a first down on a fake punt in the first half. Last year, Browning ran for a 13-yard touchdown on a fake field goal attempt against Hawaii.
Hoke credited special teams coordinator Doug Deakin postgame for going back nearly ten years of film of Idaho State’s head coach’s tenure at Cal and Arizona to identify a potential crack in the punt coverage.
“It was momentum that we needed at that time,” Hoke said, with the Aztecs leading 14-7 at the time. Byrd’s touchdown run came on the ensuing play.
After last week’s dismal defensive performance, the Aztecs started junior walk-on Davaughn Celestine at field warrior, replacing senior Cedarious Barfield.
Hoke said postgame that it was his opportunity to start based on the work he has put in. “He’s physical,” he said, noting Celestine had “individual tackles that we maybe did not make last week.”
Celestine told the media he found out he would be starting today’s game as soon as Monday’s practice. Celestine passed up JUCO offers and PWO at Oregon State to come to SDSU. He credited former Aztec field warriors Tariq and Trenton Thompson for helping him become a better player and stay ready.
“When my time came, I didn’t miss a beat,” he said. Celestine led the team with nine tackles (eight solo) and two pass breakups.
“As a team, he earned their respect,” Hoke added when discussing the decision to start Celestine.
After collecting only four tackles for loss last week against Arizona, the Aztecs’ defense had nine tonight, including 2.5 from senior linebacker Caden McDonald and two from senior linebacker Michael Shawcroft, and holding the Bengals scoreless after the opening drive.
With the score 21-7, the third quarter began inauspiciously for the Aztecs. Burmeister lost a fumble on a scramble in Bengal territory on the first drive. After a botched punt, the Aztecs took over at the Bengals’ 23-yard line but immediately gave the ball back on a Byrd fumble.
The Bengals drove the ball inside the Aztecs’ red zone and seemed to score a touchdown on a 15-yard reception by Christian Frederickson. After initially appearing to not review the play and allow the extra point to be kicked, Hoke called a timeout to allow the review booth more time to review it. Once officially reviewed, the play was overturned to an incomplete pass as Frederickson’s foot stepped out of bounds upon landing. The Aztecs’ defense stopped the Bengals on fourth down to end the drive.
It was the Aztecs turn to march down the field. They also appeared to score a touchdown on a two-yard reception by Cam Davis. But upon further review, his catch was also overturned. Browning booted a 20-yard field goal to make it 24-7.
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Two fourth-quarter touchdowns, a 14-yard pass from Burmeister to Tyrell Shavers, and a 3-yard run from Cam Davis closed out the scoring in the contest.
Running back Chance Bell came off the field, appearing to hold his arm at the conclusion of a play. Hoke did not have an update to report on him postgame. Tight end Jay Rudolph missed his second consecutive game with an undisclosed injury.
Next up, SDSU will travel to Salt Lake City to play ranked Utah Utes in a rematch of last year’s triple-overtime game the Aztecs won 33-31.
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.