Team Aztec shuts out Team Warrior in Spring Game
The San Diego State Aztecs hosted the first Spring Game in Snapdragon Stadium history on Thursday night.
The intra-squad scrimmage saw Team Aztec shut out Team Warrior 19-0.
The game format consisted of four 12-minute quarters with a brief five-minute halftime intermission.
Team Aztec scored two touchdowns, one on a 6-yd pass from Kyle Crum to Mark Redman in the back of the end zone and the other on a Martin Blake 2-yd run. Transfer placekicker Gabriel Plascencia knocked in field goals from 55 and 42 to kick off the scoring.
Starting placekicker Jack Browning did not kick in the game, giving way to Plascencia and Zechariah Ramirez to show what they can do.
The game was dominated by the defenses, as they combined to tally five interceptions, one fumble recovery, 13 tackles for loss, six sacks, and 12 pass breakups.
Team Aztec caught four of the interceptions including three in the second quarter off starting quarterback Jalen Mayden. Noah Tumblin’s interception midway through the second quarter was returned 42 yards to the 10 and led to Redman’s touchdown catch that made it 13-0.
On the return, Tumblin looked to have an opening to return it for a touchdown but was chased down by Mayden on the sideline. Quarterbacks are not considered “live” in the spring game, meaning defenders are not allowed to hit or tackle them when they have the ball. This presented a dilemma for Tumblin, who saw Mayden as the last obstacle from a pick-6.
“I didn’t want to run my shoulder into him,” said Tumblin, presumably not wanting to hit the team’s starting quarterback. “I thought I could outrun him to the corner, but he’s a little faster than I thought, so he got me.”
Tumblin added a second interception on the first drive of the second half off DJ Ralph.
“Spring was a little slow for me, so I was really determined to come out here and have a good game,” said Tumblin postgame. “The secondary will be the biggest part of the defense this year with everybody coming back (from last season), so we have a high ceiling for us.”
“I think that’s probably one of our strengths as a football team,” said Hoke about the secondary. “As a defensive coach, you like that, but as a head coach, you would like it to be five interceptions and five touchdowns.”
Sophomore safety Eric Butler led both defenses with ten tackles and added an interception off Liu Aumavae in the second half.
Trey White, Josh Hunter, and New Zealand Williams each had six tackles, the second-highest in the game. Linebacker Brady Anderson added five tackles, a sack, and forced and recovered the only fumble of the game from tight end Gus McGee.
Hoke mentioned White and Anderson by name, among others, when asked postgame which players impressed him on Thursday night.
Texas transfer JD Coffey III also recorded five tackles and the first interception of the game after an injury sustained during Monday’s practice put doubt into whether he would be available to play on Thursday night.
Vai Kaho and Dominic Oliver led the way with 1.5 tackles for loss.
Team Warrior, behind Mayden, was unable to score in the game. Twice they reached the red zone in the first half but came away with zero points. On the first drive, tight end Cameron Harpole looked to have caught a touchdown in the back of the end zone, but the officials ruled him out of bounds and the pass incomplete. Ramirez missed a 26-yard field goal at the conclusion of the drive.
Towards the end of the first half, Mayden drove the team down to the red zone once again, but his third interception, this time by Noah Avinger in the end zone, ended another scoring opportunity.
Two of Mayden’s interceptions were the result of late throws to receivers that the defenders were able to make a play on. After throwing five interceptions in the final two games of the 2022 season, protecting the football was a main priority for Mayden heading into the 2023 season. Three more turnovers on Thursday night will put an even higher emphasis on that aspect as the offense prepares for summer conditioning and fall camp.
“It’s disappointing,” said Hoke about the turnovers, adding, “we don’t play until August, and we have a lot of time to fix (it).”
Mayden completed 12 of 22 passes for 219 yards. Two of those completions were to Phillippe Wesley for 89 yards and three to Brionne Penny for 68. On two of those long completions, Mayden underthrew wide-open receivers that otherwise may have led to touchdowns.
Mikey Welsh added three catches for 30 yards showing his ability to get open and find space underneath a defense.
Blake’s 2-yd touchdown run in the fourth quarter capped off a 14-play, 96-yard drive. Blake led all rushers with 68 yards (15 carries). Lucky Sutton rushed for 25 yards (five carries) to lead Team Warrior, including a cutback run that started up the middle but bounced outside to the right for a nice gain.
Overall, Crum completed 8 of 18 passes for 73 yards, while Aumavae finished 8 of 15 passes for 102 yards. Crum made several plays with his feet running for first downs on passing plays that did not materialize.
Hoke spoke postgame about being very pleased with Crum’s performance and his development as a decision-maker since last year. When asked whether Crum could push Mayden for the starting quarterback position by the time the fall season begins, Hoke agreed, noting that every starting position needs to be earned and would not just be handed to anyone.
Darius Hyde led Team Aztec with four catches for 61 yards, and transfer Raphael Williams, Jr. added three catches for 50 yards.
The only trick play of the game came on a double reverse to Blake, who turned and threw to his left to Crum, who had snuck out of the backfield after making the initial handoff on the play. The play resulted in 11 yards and a first down.
All spring, Hoke and offensive coordinator Ryan Lindley have spoken about utilizing the tight ends more in the passing game. On Thursday night, three different tight ends caught two passes each, although the average yards per catch were only 4.5.
Redman’s touchdown was a nearly identical play to the one Harpole could not corral for a score earlier in the game.
“I saw (Ratcliffe) was down there, and I could beat him on the inside,” said Redman. “(I) just went up and made a play. (Crum) put it in a spot where only I could get it.”
The Spring Game is the culmination of Phase Two for the Aztecs, a series of 15 on-field practices. The players now depart for spring break while the coaching staff completes their player evaluations.
“We had a good spring in a lot of ways,” said Hoke. “I think the intensity that we played with was pretty good. We’ll evaluate as coaches tomorrow. We’ll grade the film in the morning, and then we’ll start spring break. When the guys get back, we’ll have some great evaluations, (and) great conversations. There will be some guys who may be disappointed in where they’re at, but that’s just part of it.”
The second wave of the transfer portal opens on May 1st. Hoke said earlier this week that he expects to use about three or four scholarships on incoming transfers during that window but also believes there may be some players currently on the team who may decide to enter the portal themselves.
There were roughly 5,800 tickets distributed for the game, but due to various factors such as weather and the men’s basketball team playing in Louisville tomorrow in the Sweet Sixteen, actual attendance was probably around one-third of that amount.
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.