Months before the October commissioning of the USS Toledo in 1946, the Navy League of Toledo raised the $12,500 ($189,853 in 2022) needed for the world-renowned Gorham Silver Company of Rhode Island to craft a one-of-a-kind treasure.
The citizens gifted the new warship a silverware set of over 200 artfully crafted pieces. Completed before the ship was launched, the set went missing for two years before finally arriving onboard in 1948.
The USS Toledo was decommissioned in 1960. Three years later the city council passed a resolution sending the treasured set to the USS Kitty Hawk in San Diego. Years later after the aircraft carrier went out of service, the silverware disappeared again before showing up on display at the USS Midway Museum in San Diego harbor.
Like the silverware, the offenses went missing for most of the afternoon on Saturday, but just like the set that reappeared at opportune times, the offenses provided a memorable ending. San Diego State defeated Toledo 17-14 in front of a spirited crowd of 27,108. Even with many fans staying on the concourse in the shade, they sounded louder than most games at the older stadium.
SDSU began with a number of new starters. Dean Abdullah started at RG for injured Ross Ulugalu-Maseuli. Kyron White started for Patrick McMorris at Aztec. Noah Tumblin started at cornerback.
Each week, the staff honors a player who exemplifies the Aztec Way to wield the shield and lead the team onto the field. Jordan Byrd led the Aztecs out of the tunnel. SDSU’s staff could not have chosen a better player. Byrd scored both of the Aztecs touchdowns on the afternoon.
“It means something to me holding that shield,” Byrd said postgame about the honor of receiving the shield. “It gives me the confidence to know that I can lead this team, be there for everybody and speak to them on and off the field.”
SDSU’s offense, missing since last season’s Frisco Bowl, continued to struggle. Their first two possessions had twice as many penalty yards as total yards. Signs of life emerged on drive three. Backed up on their own two, SDSU returned to its identity the past decade and pounded up the middle. Jaylon Armstead replaced Byrd, who started the game. He received carries on three of the next four plays, and racked up 30 yards before heading to the sidelines. He did not return.
The drive ultimately stalled after Mark Redman dropped a pass on third down that would have resulted in a first down.
As bad as the Aztecs offense played, Toledo was even worse. Without committing a penalty, they had -3 yards heading into their third series. Following Toledo’s third drive that ended in a missed field, SDSU took over at their own 20.
Byrd’s first official carry of the contest came on SDSU’s first play of the second quarter. He only needed two touches to score. On his first, he sped around the left end for 39 yard. On the next, he dashed up the middle for 43 yards giving SDSU a 7-0 lead. It was a two-play, eighty-yard, 42-second drive.
Toledo moved the ball into SDSU territory on their next drive before redemption struck. Following the Aztecs’ game with Arizona, safety Cedarious Barfield lost his starting job for his play against the Wildcats. His first action since came on the Rockets’ third series. He ended their fourth with an interception. It was the first of his career.
Their next possession began backed up inside their own ten. It ended after Cooper McDonald recovered the first fumble of his career. McDonald nearly broke a huge return but was brought down just before he broke free.
Neither team threatened the rest of the half and SDSU took a 7-0 lead into intermission. SDSU outgained Toledo 140 to 77 on the ground. The Rockets had a dominant 100 to 11 advantage through the air.
Toledo won the toss and elected to defer giving them the ball to open the second frame. It ended with a turnover just like two of their final three drives of the first half. Finn was drilled as he released the ball and the pass sailed into the arms of Davaughn Celestine for the first interception of his career. Finn was slow to get up and was replaced at QB by redshirt freshman Tucker Gleason.
Gleason had appeared in Toledo’s first three games but Saturday was the first real snaps of his career and it showed. Playing against an inspired SDSU defense, he was very inaccurate for the remainder of the third quarter. Gleason’s ineffectiveness was matched by Braxton Burmeister.
On the Aztecs’ first possession, SDSU’s QB took a sack instead of finding a wide-open Jesse Matthews on a deep pass that would have likely resulted in a touchdown. He threw an interception to end their second drive on a pass that did not give Tyrell Shavers a chance to make a play.
Despite the offense’s ineptitude, the field position game favored SDSU. Toledo’s third-quarter drives started on their own 19, 15, 15, and 6. The Aztecs began theirs at their own 48, 41, 48, and at midfield.
Finally, the offense took advantage of the great field position its defense had given it. Toledo stacked the box daring Burmeister to beat them in the air. SDSU only called their bluff once. Rolling to his right, Burmeister hit Mekhi Shaw for a 16-yard gain. The throw was high and Shaw went up and masterfully got a foot in bounds. Following the completion came three straight runs and a 50-yard field goal. It was the longest of Jack Browning’s career. SDSU led 10-0 with 12 seconds left in the quarter.
“I knew what Browning could hit,” head coach Brady Hoke said postgame on his decision to attempt a 50-yard kick. “I felt really good about the wind and those kinds of things. Jack’s done a tremendous job for us. He’s really done a great job.”
Finn returned to start the fourth quarter and Toledo rediscovered its offense like its famed silverware. Utilizing the quick screen game and crossing routes, the Rockets drove inside the red zone for the third time in the game. Stout as they were all game, SDSU’s defense finally broke surrendering an eleven-yard scoring pass from Finn to Ezechiel Tieide.
Brionne Penny returned the ensuing kick to the Aztecs’ 40-yard line. After another three and out by the offense, Browning pinned the Rockets again. Toledo took over at its own seven-yard line setting the scene for Finn’s heroics.
Finn marched the Rockets on an eight-play 93-yard drive that started with him avoiding a Caden McDonald sack that would have ended in a safety. It ended with Finn leaping and stretching the ball over the goal line for a touchdown and a 14-10 lead with 2:56 left in the game.
Improbably, SDSU’s offense responded. Burmeister scrambled for 18 yards. Found Shaw for five yards, Matthews for seven, and Tyrell Shavers for 13. Following an incomplete and a Toledo timeout, Burmeister ran for 18 yards and suddenly the Aztecs were in the red zone with a first and ten from the eleven. On first down, Christon took a carry for five yards that was one block from scoring. Consecutive false starts by Alama Ulavae and Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson pushed SDSU back to the sixteen. Burmeister responded again, scrambling for 15 more yards giving the Aztecs a first and goal from the one.
Toledo called their final timeout to set up Byrd’s game-winning touchdown with 41 seconds left. The game was sealed by an interception by Caden McDonald who missed a chance to finish the game a series before.
“It’s football,” McDonald explained. “No one plays a perfect game. … that’s the glory about football, if you’re healthy the next play, what an opportunity it has. Take each play as its own. You mess up on one play, make yourself better on the next. It just so happen I got the ball thrown to me on that last play.”
On Tuesday, Offensive Coordinator Jeff Hecklinski said SDSU needed to regain its identity as a tough football team that outlasted its opponent. For one game on Saturday, the Aztecs proved to be the tougher, longer-lasting team.
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Only a portion of the extensive silverware remains in San Diego. Part of the set is inside the present USS Toledo, an attack submarine. According to the curator at the Midway Museum, the Navy has decided in the future, if another USS Toledo is built that is large enough to hold the entire collection, it would move there.
Until then, it remains on the Midway as a symbol of the history that connects San Diego and Toledo. If the Aztecs are able to build off the momentum of Saturday’s contest, the game against Toledo will be remembered as a symbol of the season’s turnaround.
My earliest sport’s memory involve tailgating at the Murph, running down the circular exit ramps, and seeing the Padres, Chargers and Aztecs play. As a second generation Aztec, I am passionate about all things SDSU. Other interests include raising my four children, being a great husband and teaching high school.