The San Diego State Aztecs defeated the UTSA Roadrunners, 38-24, in the 2021 Frisco Bowl to reach 12 wins in a season for the first time in program history.
The victory also erased the bad taste in the Aztecs’ mouth from the 27-0 loss to Ohio in the 2018 Frisco Bowl.
“I am really excited about how our team came together,” Aztecs head coach Brady Hoke said after the game. “I’m proud of how our guys responded. This is one of my favorite teams I’ve ever been around.”
Wide receiver Jesse Matthews won Offensive MVP by securing 11 catches for a career-high 175 yards (Frisco Bowl record) and two touchdowns, continuing his hot streak at the end of the season. Seven of his nine touchdowns have come in the last four games. “He’s a great receiver and made a lot of one-on-one plays,” UTSA head coach Jeff Traylor said about Matthews after the game.
Quarterback Lucas Johnson played the best game of his collegiate season, completing 24 of 36 passes for 333 yards (Frisco Bowl record) and three touchdowns. He also added a two-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. “Some of the passes he made, I’m not sure there’s anything we could have done,” Traylor said about Johnson’s performance.
Hoke praised Johnson after the game for his decisiveness and aggressiveness. “He’s had some snippets of games over the last two years where he’s really looked just like he looked today,” Hoke said.
Running back, Greg Bell finished his collegiate career with 101 rushing yards (his fifth 100-yd game of the season and first since week five) and his ninth rushing touchdown on the year. On a five-yard run on fourth and four in the first half, he became the 18th player in program history to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season.
The Aztecs gained 489 yards of offense, 437 of which came after the first quarter and converted 50% (5/10) of their third downs.
The Conference USA champions entered this game, missing key players. Three starters (RB Sincere McCormick, DL Lorenzo Dantzler, and CB Tariq Woolen) opted out of the game as they prepared for the NFL Draft. Several other players were reportedly in health and safety protocols due to COVID-19 and unavailable. Traylor said postgame that they missed upwards of 25 players due to various reasons.
In addition, safety Rashad Wisdom missed the first half of the game due to a targeting penalty in the second half of the Conference USA championship game. Their defense seemed to wear down as the game went on, and the Aztecs offense was able to take advantage.
“Our kids competed all the way to the end,” Traylor said. “When you play good people, they make you look bad at times.”
Quarterback Frank Harris completed 22 of 36 passes for 271 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Running back Brenden Brady, starting in place of McCormick, rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. In total, the Roadrunners gained 388 yards in total offense but were only 1/9 on third downs and 1/3 on fourth downs.
The Aztecs took a three-point lead into halftime but left numerous opportunities for more points on the field after committing nine penalties for 80 yards, including three costly personal foul penalties.
“Our mistakes by penalties really helped keep UTSA in the game,” Hoke said, adding, “we had some real bonehead penalties.”
The penalties continued throughout the second half, adding two more personal foul penalties and finishing the game with 14 penalties for 124 yards.
The Aztecs scored on the opening possession of the second half to take a 24-14 lead. The Roadrunners’ Hunter Duplessis kicked a 41-yard field goal to get them within seven.
Aztecs true freshman safety CJ Baskerville forced the only turnover on the night with his first career interception on the next UTSA drive, and the Aztecs scored on a 24-yard touchdown pass to Tyrell Shavers to take a 31-17 lead.
Baskerville, who added nine tackles, was named Defensive MVP. Jonah Tavai added six tackles, including two tackles for loss (one sack).
“We knew we had to stop the run,” Baskerville said. “We gave up some big plays, but as a defense, we kept going.” The North Richland Hills, TX native had upwards of 25 to 30 family and friends in attendance. “It was an amazing feeling.”
The Roadrunners scored on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, capped off by a three-yard touchdown catch by Zakhari Franklin on the final play of the third quarter to make it 31-24.
They joined the personal foul penalty party in the fourth quarter, committing two on the Aztecs drive to start the fourth quarter, which ended on Johnson’s two-yard touchdown run to make it 38-24. UTSA totaled nine penalties for 80 yards.
Punter Matt Araiza entered the game looking to hold on to his record-setting yard per punt average of 51.37. He booted three punts for 140 yards (46.7 average), dropping his season average to 51.18, but good enough to break the previous record of 50.98 by Braden Mann. Araiza added a 33-yard field goal at the end of the first half.
The Aztecs started the game poorly, allowing the Roadrunners to take the opening drive 75 yards on seven plays and score on a 12-yard touchdown catch by De’Corian Clark. The Aztecs offense went three and out, and the Roadrunners next drive looked promising until the defense stiffened up and forced an incompletion on fourth and seven to thwart the drive. The Aztecs defense stopped another fourth-down attempt later in the first half when Andrew Aleki shot the gap up the middle and stopped the running back for no gain on a fourth and one play.
The announced attendance at Toyota Stadium was 15,801.