Despite the Lightning, Aztecs Survive Tough Test in Colorado & Beat Air Force 28-24

Credit: Go Aztecs

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Fresh off two emotional victories against Pac-12 opponents, the San Diego State Aztecs found themselves in a potential “trap” game, against a fierce Air Force Falcons team that had just gone toe to toe with Michigan. The Falcons lost their game last week, but they performed well on the road against the Wolverines.

The Colorado skies opened up on Saturday as weather forecasters called for rain and drizzle throughout the whole game. The field was wet and sloppy and turnovers would be key on the day as both teams would be limited on their offensive abilities early in the contest.

The Aztecs got the ball on the opening kickoff and went three-and-out as Christian Chapman stumbled and fell after the snap on third down. Rashaad Penny was not a factor in that first drive as he only got one carry for five yards. After a small drive by Air Force, the Aztecs got the ball back.

On the first play of the second drive, a toss-sweep was attempted by the Aztecs. The football was fumbled by Rashaad Penny and immediately recovered by the Falcons. Thankfully, a defensive holding call saved SDSU as the turnover was wiped off the board. The Aztecs failed to capitalize on the momentum and had to punt after a couple of plays, resulting in zero yardage.

Air Force, playing at home in the same horrible weather, had no trouble moving the ball initially on the ground. A nice punt by the Aztecs pinned the Falcons on their own 20, but they wasted no time driving 80 yards on the Aztecs, by basically pounding them right in the mouth. They scored the TD, but weather was a factor as they missed a two-point opportunity. The Aztec defense was starting to look gassed as they had been on the field much of the first quarter. Offensively, SDSU needed a long drive on their next possession to slow down the Falcons’ momentum.

Juwan Washington received some carries in the third series, as the Aztecs continued to run the ball to the left, which was the short side of the field. SDSU was able to cross the midfield mark, but came up short on a third and nine, from the 38. Weather was starting to become a huge factor as the rain was coming down at this point. A driving, monsoon-like rain was hitting the field as the Falcons retained possession after an Aztec punt. The end of the first quarter came at this point with the Falcons holding a 6-0 lead.

The Falcons were not able to get anything going as the second quarter started, and punted back to SDSU. Again the Aztecs’ offense sputtered and were forced to kick once again to Air Force. A bad punt resulted in the Falcons starting their drive from the Aztecs’ 38. After a couple of plays, Air Force made a field goal to make the score 9-0. The Aztecs looked frustrated at this point as the team had looked stale on both sides of the ball.

A huge roughing the kicker call allowed the Aztecs to retain the ball after yet another three-and-out. That is when mother nature stepped in. A lightning strike within a three-mile radius of the stadium forced a mandatory 30 minute delay in the game. Something that could be an advantage to the Aztecs, as they needed to regroup mentally.

The game resumed after an 89-minute delay.

SDSU came out of the break with a play-action pass to Kahale Warring for 42 yards (VIDEO BELOW) that brought the team within reach of the end zone. Another key penalty assisted the Aztecs, as Air Force committed a pass interference penalty in the end zone on third down. The Aztecs wasted no time in punching in a TD, as Penny powered in for the score. After the extra point, it was Falcons 9, Aztecs 7.

Air Force responded by initially moving the ball when they got it back, but they stalled at around midfield and kicked it back to the Aztecs. SDSU got within field goal range, but John Baron missed a 39-yard field goal that would have given the Aztecs the lead. The game approached half time, but the usual 20-minute break was waived by both coaches after the long weather delay midway through the second quarter.

The Falcons had the ball as the third quarter started. Their fans were begging for the team to just pound the ball, and that is what they attempted to do. The rain had let up at this juncture of the game. It was still drizzling, but the field and its footing were much improved. Air Force had yet to throw a pass at this point in the game as they continued to utilize their triple wishbone running style to frustrate the Aztecs’ defense. Despite their frustration, the defense continued to contain the Falcon offense for the most part.

Rashaad Penny knew all eyes were on him as his team needed a huge second half to pull away with a victory. Like a closer in major league baseball, Penny’s job was to move the chains, control the time of possession, and earn the win. The man did not have to carry the whole load himself as Juwan Washington is coming into his own in his second year with the team. The smaller Washington has a great burst and took a ball 29 yards on a toss (VIDEO BELOW) early in the third quarter. With the Falcons unable to key in on Penny, the Aztec’ offense began to open up. Christian Chapman found himself with more time to make plays and the team drove deep into Falcon territory. A huge turnover by Chapman, on a sack, forced the Aztecs to yet again lose momentum in the game.

Luckily for SDSU, the defense was intense and fired up. They had seen all of what Air Force had to offer, and were ready to make the proper adjustments. Air Force looked inept on offense at this point and were forced to punt to the Aztecs once again. SDSU looked calm on offense as they sensed it was only a matter of time before they overcame their mistakes and took control of the game.

The Aztec offense drove down the field on a lengthy drive that took a huge chunk out of the clock in the third quarter. Juwan Washington continued to see plenty of action in this series, but Rashaad Penny made back-to-back plays to put the Aztecs up in the game. After a fantastic grab on third down, Penny rumbled 20 yards virtually untouched (VIDEO BELOW) into the end zone. A key block by tight end David Wells sprung him for the score. The Aztecs were up 14-9 at this point and they seemed destined to shake off their early problems.

As the sky of Colorado began to clear up, so did the Aztecs game. As the third quarter ended, the Falcons were faced with a huge fourth down call in the midfield. SDSU had shown the ability to score in their last few series, so the Falcons were legitimately concerned about giving them back the ball down by five in the fourth. The Air Force coaching staff elected to punt, hoping their defense could contain SDSU.

It was now the fourth quarter and the Aztecs were sitting on a lead. This is the time for Penny and the offense to shine. Instead, Rashaad Penny did not receive a touch as the Aztecs were the victim of a three-and-out. Deep in their own end, the special teams unit had a mental breakdown as they allowed a blocked punt by Air Force. The Falcons had the ball on a first and goal and wasted no time in punching in the touchdown for a 15-14 lead. A big two-point conversion was made by the Falcons as they attempted their first throw on the night. 17-14 Air Force was the score and we had ourselves a ball game.

Tim Wilson ran down the field and caught a 31-yard pass to open up a crucial series for the Aztecs. Again the Falcons committed a key penalty, as a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty gave the Aztecs momentum. David Wells was hit on a touchdown over the middle (VIDEO BELOW) immediately after that call as the Aztecs jumped back on top in the MWC special. After the extra point the Aztecs took a 21-17 lead.

The Aztecs had the lead with 11 minutes left in the game. Air Force, with the ball, found some success early in the drive, running the ball straight up the gut. On a big third down, the Air Force coaching staff went into their bag of tricks, as a fullback pass resulted in a huge play that got the Falcons within scoring range. The Aztec defense was on their heels at this point and Air Force took the lead on a toss with six minutes left in the game. Air Force 24, SDSU 21 in a wild one.

Rashaad Penny took the game into his hands at this point, as he reversed his motion and took a handoff 53 yards for a touchdown (VIDEO  BELOW). The Aztecs offense once again took the lead, but could they hold off the suddenly resurgent Falcons offense?

The Falcons had a chance to win this game, but they would have to do it in an empty stadium. Falcon Stadium was empty as the Falcons got the ball down four late in the game. Their offense is not a quick scoring unit, so they needed some big plays to get the job done. The Falcons sputtered on their possession, and were forced to punt the ball. A great punt, yet again, pinned the Aztecs within their five yard line with just over three minutes to play. Back-to-back carries to Rashaad Penny resulted in only three yards. On a huge third and seven, Rashaad Penny was only able to get four, and the Aztecs had to punt. The game was going to be on the defense for the win.

Air Force needed 51 yards for the victory with 2:13 seconds on the clock. A top-25 ranking was on the line. The Aztec defense was up for the challenge, as they contained the running game and forced a pickoff with a fourth a long toss by the Air Force quarterback. Coach Rocky Long and his troops survived a tough test and ended up on top. The “trap” game is over and the Aztecs can now focus on their next opponent. They play at home next week against the Northern Illinois Huskies (2-1).

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