SDSU keeps conference title hopes alive with 14-10 win over UNLV

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

The Aztecs improved their overall record to 5-4 by beating the Rebels, 14-10, on Homecoming Night at Snapdragon Stadium. The Rebels, who came in with identical overall and conference records as the Aztecs, fell to 4-5 (2-3). 

“It’s good to win homecoming,” said SDSU head coach postgame. “It was good to win in a tough game.”

With a 3-2 conference record, the Aztecs keep their championship hopes alive. The Aztecs have now won eight of the last nine games against the Rebels. 

The Aztecs and Rebels finished with very similar offensive outputs in total yards (315 to 325), rushing yards (99 to 118), and passing yards (216 to 207), but the Aztecs held a +3 turnover margin after forcing four Rebels’ turnovers. Two of those turnovers were interceptions by Dez Malone and Dallas Branch in the end zone to stop red zone opportunities. 

Quarterback Jalen Mayden completed 19 of 31 passes for 216 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Jesse Matthews led the way, catching five passes for 84 yards and a 28-yd touchdown. 

“I scored my first touchdown in San Diego today, so that was a pretty special moment for me,” said Matthews postgame. “And just being in front of my family and friends … is something very special to me.”

On the touchdown, Matthews found himself open between two zone defenders, and Mayden found him right away near the ten-yard line. 

“It was a two-trap coverage which means the corner will crash down right away,” said Matthews on what he saw on the play. “That safety has to go over the top but I noticed (he) was too far, so once I got past the cornerback, I just turned my head to (Mayden), and he read it. He got the ball to me pretty quick.”

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

After the catch, Matthews had to make both defenders miss, keep his right foot inbounds, cut back inside and run the remaining eight yards for his second touchdown of the season. 

“I thought I might have stepped out, but I just kept going … I didn’t hear a whistle, so I had to finish.”

UNLV quarterback Doug Brumfield returned after missing the past two games with injury. He finished 17 of 27 for 207 yards and one touchdown to go with the two interceptions in the end zone. 

SDSU running back Jaylon Armstead received his first carry since the fourth game of the season on a third and three in the second quarter. He ran outside for five yards to pick up the first down. Two plays later, Mayden found Matthews for the score.  

Clinging to a 14-10 lead with 5:41 remaining in the game, the Aztecs started a drive at their own six-yard line. Twice last week, with less than six minutes remaining, the Aztecs had a chance to close out the game with a few first downs and failed. 

This time, however, they went eleven plays for 79 yards and ran out the entire clock. All five first downs and 70 of the 79 yards came via the running game. Armstead rushed for 56 yards on that drive and finished with 72 yards on 14 carries. 

“It felt great,” said Hoke when asked about the success of the running game to close out the game. “As an offense, they were a little disappointed early in the game. They kept themselves on the field where the defense didn’t have to go back out, and they won the football game for us.”

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

“I’m proud of our front lineman and our tight ends and running backs … taking pride in that and finishing the game because that’s something we preached all week,” added Matthews on the final drive. 

After sustaining an injury at the end of a fake punt run last week in Fresno, Jack Browning punted and kicked field goals in the game, but transfer Jarrett Reeser handled kickoffs. Browning missed field goals from 50 and 48 yards out after entering the game connecting on 12 of 13. 

Browning booted a 58-yd punt on his first attempt in the game, then followed that up with a 51-yarder that was downed at the one-yard line by Jordan Byrd. Later in the game, Browning punted a career-long 61-yarder. 

For one week, the Aztecs put their penalty woes behind them, only committing two for 15 yards after averaging 8.38 per game in the first eight games. 

The first penalty took a touchdown off the board for SDSU. Kenan Christon ran outside for what appeared to be a 25-yd touchdown, but center Alama Uluave was called for holding. On the next play, Mayden threw a pass into double coverage intended for Brionne Penny and was picked off by Ricky Johnson. 

It was Mayden’s third interception in as many quarters dating back to the second half against Fresno State, after not throwing one in his first ten quarters of action. UNLV came into the game tied for sixth-best in FBS with 12 interceptions, but this was Johnson’s first on the year. 

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

UNLV fumbled later in the second quarter due to a high snap by the center that Brumfield could not handle. SDSU defensive end Garrett Fountain came away with the ball at the bottom of the pile at the UNLV 37. Unfortunately for the Aztecs, a third and two run by Armstead lost yardage, and Browning missed a 50-yd field goal wide left. 

Cedarious Barfield forced the fourth turnover of the night, knocking the ball loose from Ricky White’s hands before his knee touched the ground after an 18-yd catch. Branch recovered at the SDSU 28 to keep the game 7-0 at halftime. 

The Aztecs looked to have taken control of the game on the first drive of the second half, marching down the field for 75 yards on seven plays to make it 14-0. Mayden completed passes to Tyrell Shavers (24 yards), Mekhi Shaw (8), and Matthews (13) before throwing a touchdown pass to tight end Mark Redman from 24 yards out. 

The creative play had Mayden fake the handoff to Byrd up the middle, then another fake to Matthews on an end-around headed right before finding Redman wide open down the left sideline.  

The Rebels got on the scoreboard with a 70-yd touchdown pass to Nick Williams. Brumfield found Williams wide open and behind the entire defense down the right sideline for the touchdown pass in the third quarter to cut the lead in half (14-7).

Interceptions by Malone and Branch kept the Rebels from scoring on two other opportunities. In the five games Brumfield had played in full, the Rebels averaged nearly 38 points per game. The Aztec defense held them to ten. 

“The DBs played such great coverage which allowed the defensive line and the linebackers to add some pressure to the quarterback,” said senior linebacker Caden McDonald on why the defense was able to shut down the Rebels. “The turnover margin is a huge reason why we held them to ten points.”

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

Branch was the player of the game for the defense, recording his first career sack, recovering a fumble, and the interception in the end zone. 

A Daniel Gutierrez 28-yd field goal after Browning dropped a snap on a punt attempt cut the lead to 14-10. 

SDSU thought it had caused its fifth turnover on the night on a Patrick McMorris forced fumble and recovery after a short completion to Shelton Zeon. McMorris returned it all the way inside the UNLV five-yard line. After a lengthy review, the play was overturned as Zeon’s butt hit the ground before the ball came loose. The Aztecs stopped the ensuing third down and forced a punt with 5:41 remaining in the game. The Rebels never got the ball back. 

UNLV linebacker Austin Ajiake, who entered the game leading the Mountain West with 87 tackles, had nine tackles and a sack. Adam Plant Jr. added seven tackles, three tackles for loss, and two sacks. Overall, the UNLV defense had eleven tackles for loss and six sacks. 

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Linebacker Michael Shawcroft led the Aztecs with 11 tackles and added 1.5 tackles for loss. 

Safety CJ Baskerville missed his second consecutive game with an injury. Barfield started in his place in both games. 

UNLV running back Aidan Robbins rushed for 115 yards on 21 carries but did not find the end zone. 

SDSU hosts San Jose State next Saturday night at 730pm PT at Snapdragon Stadium in hopes of becoming bowl-eligible with a sixth win on the season. 

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