The rivalry tension and near-capacity crowd in Fresno helped keep the struggling Bulldogs in the game against a formidable San Jose State team that was supposed to dominate.
But Fresno State (2-4, 1-1 MW) did the rivalry thing. They ground down San Jose State (4-2, 2-1 MW) 17-10 for a much needed win.
After a goose egg first quarter by both teams, the Bulldog’s offensive momentum started to take hold late in the first quarter until a forced fumble by the Spartans neutralized it.
With the Spartan defense leading the way again, coming up with three sacks and two forced fumbles in the first half, the Spartan offense sputtered for most of the game.
In the first-half, two dropped Spartan passes in the end zone should have been two touchdown passes by Chevan Cordiero - one led to Cordiero’s first interception after 171 attempts.
SJS could only muster a 24-yard Taren Schive field goal until the cardiac arrest late in the first-half.
Fresno’s first foray in the red zone, courtesy of a costly Spartan penalty, led to a six-yard Jordan Mims rushing TD with 1:57 left in the second quarter and a 7-3 lead for the Bulldogs.
With the Spartan offense still faltering, due in large part to a big rambunctious Bulldog defensive line, SJS punted for the fourth time in the half.
The only Tedford backfire
With the momentum very late in the second quarter, Fresno head coach Jeff Tedford tried to conserve time for another hopeful score.
But Spartan DE Viliami Fehoko stripped sacked Bulldog QB Logan Fife on their ensuing possession and running-back-rumbled to the Fresno 32-yard line with 16 seconds left in the half.
One play later with 16 seconds on the clock, Cordiero found receiver Elijah Cooks for a 32-yard touchdown and a surprising 10-7 halftime lead.
Unfortunately, the last second score shook a Bulldog coach in the press box, who bloodied his hand after breaking a window which rained down glass on the crowd below (two fans needed medical attention and police were called in).
A shocked crowd could only look forward to Las Vegas Raider and former Bulldog Devante Adam’s jersey retirement ceremony at half-time.
A defensive battle
We know what the Spartan defense has done and can do to opposing offenses.
Fresno was returning the favor double-time in true rivalry spirit.
Bulldog DE David Perales was in the Spartan backfield early and often. Perales with four sacks and five tackles for loss helped stymy Cordiero’s ground game, as the Fresno defense kept the high-powered Spartan offense at bay all game long.
Stoic Spartan linebacker Kyle Harmon’s nine tackles put him fifth all-time in tackles for SJS. Spartan cornerback Nehemiah Shelton also garnered his first interception as part of the three overall takeaways for SJS.
By the end of the third quarter, the Bulldog offense found their legs again on a nine-play 80-yard drive for a 14-10 lead going into the fourth.
Again and again, the Spartan defense did what they were supposed to do to give them a chance.
The grind kine
Often with zero time to do anything and hit more times than previous games, rock steady playmaker Cordiero continued to grind to no avail in the fourth quarter.
Overall, Cordiero went 22-45, 294 yards passing, one TD pass, one INT with Cooks the main beneficiary. Cooks collected 140 yards on seven receptions and the 32-yard TD reception.
The Bulldog defense forced the issue well on the Spartans.
Unable to capitalize in the red zone, no ground attack, untimely penalties, dropped passes, 3-of-14 on 3rd downs, a missed field goal, and despite being plus-two in turnovers, San Jose State contributed its own self-inflicted wounds.
With no scoring in the second half by the Spartans, the Bulldogs won the battle of the grind and kept possession of the Valley Trophy.