After a tough loss to Boise State last Friday, the Dogs needed to bounce back and get a win over a tough San Diego State team to clinch the West Division, and keep their hopes of a Mountain West Championship alive. The team knew their goal was still in front of them, and were committed to getting back on track. And bounce back they did. Everyone knew going in that this would be a defensive struggle for both teams, with both sitting in the Top 20 of total defense going into the weekend. Rushing yards would be incredibly hard to find, with passing offense being the key for both teams. This was one area where Fresno State had the advantage, and that turned out to be how the West was won for the Bulldogs.
Things started out fast for Fresno State, scoring on their second play from scrimmage. Marcus McMaryion hit Jamire Jordan down the sideline on a free play with an 84yd strike, and the Dogs jumped out to a 7-0 lead before most fans were even in their seats. It seemed like this would turn into a rout, but the fans knew that SDSU wouldn’t go down without a fight. It took the Aztecs a couple of drives to get into a rhythm, but their passing game actually gained some traction in their third drive. Christian Chapman found Fred Trevillion behind the defense, and he ran 75 yards for the equalizer to knot the game at 7. Trevillion would be pretty much the whole offense for the Aztecs, accounting for 189 of their 282 total yards. All of that came on only 4 receptions as well, with 2 touchdowns. If anything came out of this game, it’s that the Bulldog secondary needs to respect the deep threat against any team, even one that’s defined by the run.
The rest of the first half would be based around punt after punt after punt, with only a Fresno State field goal, and one more Aztec passing touchdown being it for scoring. This was definitely not going to be an offensive track meet game, and points would be at an extreme premium. Which showed that one of the biggest plays of the first half was a turnover on downs that Fresno forced, stopping a Chapman pass on 4th and 5 to get the ball, and in good enough field position to score on a field goal by Asa Fuller.
Fresno State actually got a quick start to the 2nd half as well, getting Ronnie Rivers and Keesean Johnson down the field to the SDSU 3, where Ronnie burst through the line to put the Bulldogs back in front 17-14 one drive into the half. One of the biggest moments of the 2nd half wasn’t a score, but actually a missed score. Notably reliable John Barron II missed a field goal in the 2nd half just to the left of the uprights, couldn’t hook the 47 yard kick back in. This was only his 4th miss of the year, and kept the Bulldogs in front heading into the 4th quarter.
In a game based around strong defensive play, both teams were definitely getting worn down as the 4th quarter came around. This was also when the Fresno State running game started to get some real traction, as Ronnie Rivers and Marcus McMaryion were able to combine to move the ball into Aztec territory, and draw the defense up enough for Keesean Johnson to slip behind them for a 37yd strike down to the SDSU 3. Then it was Jordan Mims’ chance to find the endzone, and the Dogs went in front 23-14. Scary moment as Asa Fuller’s PAT attempt was blocked, and SDSU was able to run it back to the Fresno State 20 before being tackled. A score there would have put the Aztecs only a touchdown back with a quarter to go, but luckily the deficit stayed at two posessions.
A missed Bulldog field goal would be the last real scoring attempt of the game, and SDSU’s last gasp drive would turn the ball over on downs, with Fresno State only needing one first down to end the game. Three runs from Ronnie Rivers, and the Dogs were able to kneel this one out. With the win, Fresno State wins the West Division for the second year in a row, and their 4th time in the 6 years that the Mountain West has had divisions. They move into 1st place for most division wins in the conference, but the only number that matters is conference championships, where Fresno only has 2.
In the stat line, the Bulldogs went all out to stop the Aztec rushing attack, and they definitely did an incredible job of it. San Diego State was held to only 64 rushing yards at 2.4 yards a carry, with Juwuan Washington only accounting for 38 yards and 2 yards/carry. This was their lowest total of the year, 20 yards less than the Air Force Falcons were able to hold them to earlier in the year. On the flipside, the Aztec defense held the Bulldog offense to only 123 rushing yards, at 3 yards/carry. Definitely not a strong game for either rushing attack, but we all knew that going in when it matched the No.4 and No.8 rush defenses against each other.
Where To Now?
Fresno State (9-2, 6-1 MWC) will stay at home to finish their season against SJSU (1-10, 1-6 MWC) with the Valley Trophy and another double-digit win season on the line for Jeff Tedford and the team. They’ve retained the Golden Screwdriver and Old Oil Can, with one more trophy game in the season. They do need to wait awhile to get the Milk Can back from Boise State, as the division schedules switch over next year. They will now have to wait a week to see who they’ll play in the Title Game, as the Mountain Division comes down to a ranked matchup between Boise State and Utah State.
San Diego State (7-4, 4-3 MWC) will return home to finish their season against Hawaii (7-5, 4-3 MWC). Both teams are now bowl eligible, but SDSU definitely wants to end their season on a high note in what has been a disappointing year on the Mesa. Thoughts of a NY6 game and another conference championship did not come to pass due to injuries, but there is still a lot on the line for Rocky Long’s team. With one more win, the senior class will move to 40 wins over the last 4 years, which is an incredible stretch for any group, and is the most Aztec wins in a 4 years since the late 60s, when they won 41 over 4 years. Eclipsing that record is still on the table, as the Aztecs will make a bowl game for the 9th straight year.