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A Comeback for the Ages

The legend of Jake Haener grows as Dogs win 32-28

NCAA Football: San Diego State at Fresno State Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Halloween weekend, brand new uniforms, a late night Mountain West game with a rivalry trophy on the line, and the return of Jake Haener to Fresno State. It could only end up being something incredibly spooky. I was about ready to write this article based solely around the utterly terrifying offensive line play during the game, but Jake Haener had some more magic in mind. After 55 minutes of Fresno State seemingly making every mistake possible, including giving up a fake punt and throwing two INTs in the endzone, it looked like SDSU would ride their defense to a commanding win in Fresno. But the craziest sequence of plays happened in the final two minutes of the game, turning a sure win for SDSU into the most improbable of Fresno State wins Saturday night. Let’s examine how we got there.

The biggest surprise of the night coming in was the huge announcement that star players Jake Haener, Evan Williams, and Josh Kelly were returning to the field for the first time since the USC loss in Week 3. It didn’t take long for Jake to make his presence felt, as the Dogs took the first drive of the game 58 yards down the field in 13 plays before Abraham Montano kicked through a 35yd kick to start the scoring 3-0. The Aztecs would respond by marching 82 yards down the field to before Jalen Mayden ran the ball 28 yards to paydirt and put SDSU back ahead 7-3. The mobile QBs continue to be a challenge for Kevin Coyle’s defense, and Mayden certainly took advantage of that over the course of the game.

Drive number 2 for the Bulldogs began to show a bit of a theme for the night, which was Jake Haener getting sacked. After going two straight games not surrendering a sack, the offensive line gave up 7 of them to the Aztec defense. Add in injuries to Dontae Bull and Mose Vavao, the offensive line was close to just putting a tackling dummy out there to have 5 players on the line. The run game could not get going at all due to an active SDSU defensive line, ending up with 0 yards on the ground (reminder that sacks count against rushing yards in college). Although, they switched up the scheme in the second half after feedback from Jake to the coaches, and the offense began to move much better down the stretch. Despite surrendering 2 INTs, Jake Haener did look almost like himself again back there. The INTs weren’t even truly on Jake, one was a tipped ball, and the other was a receiver that fell down on the route.

On the subject of turnovers though, this was a house of horrors for the Aztecs. They turned the ball over 5 times, and fumbled a 6th time but did recover it. Despite winning the yardage battle, the Aztecs lost the turnover margin 5-2, but still almost pulled off the victory.

Fresno State quickly answered San Diego’s touchdown, as Jake engineered a 9 play, 75yd drive before Haener found Nikko Remigio for a 21yd strike to bring the score back to 14-10. Unfortunately, that would be the end of the scoring for the Dogs in the first half. The Aztecs would fumble on their next drive, but Jordan Mims wasn’t able to get enough distance on a 4th and 1. San Diego would take advantage, driving their way back down the field before Jalen Mayden ran in his second touchdown of the night to put the Aztecs up 21-10 going into halftime. The Dogs would need answers on both sides of the ball in the 2nd half, and they definitely found them.

Jayden Mayden started the second half with an INT after a strong start to the drive, with Cam Lockridge pulling down the pass and returning it 28 yards. It looked like Fresno State was driving to bring the game back within 4 points before disaster struck. The turf monster struck Josh Kelly, and the pass meant for him went directly to an Aztec defender in the endzone. For many Fresno fans, this looked like doom, as San Diego State used a fake punt from Jake Browning to catapult themselves down the field and into scoring position where he found Jesse Matthews from 7 yards out to put the score up to 28-10.

This led to a not exactly proud moment for the fanbase, as Valley Children’s Stadium started to empty out. Despite imploring the fans to stay, they headed for the exits without knowing they’d be missing one of the best games of the year. For those of us that did stay, we’d certainly be rewarded by memories that will live forever. Or nightmares, if you made the trip up from San Diego. The next drive put a lot of life back in the Bulldogs, as San Diego muffed the punt at the 8 yard line, putting Fresno in business already the redzone. Jordan Mims ran for 2 yards, and then Jake Haener found Zane Pope in the back of the endzone for a brilliant touchdown catch right as the 3rd quarter ended.

There are people out there that are unaware, or unaccustomed to the bonkers displays that we like to call Mountain Weird football. It must be a less rewarding experience for them to not experience the absolute craziness that we get to experience on an almost weekly basis. I hope that they got to watch at least the 4th quarter of this legendary game.

After scoring their touchdown, SDSU went into burn the clock mode, but it did not go how they expected. They were turned away on their own 4th and 1 play. This is when the game went into complete overdrive of ridiculousness. The Dogs would drive their way back down the field, looking to get back into the game before Jake Haener threw his 2nd INT of the night in the endzone, seemingly snuffing out any last chance Fresno had of winning. The stadium emptied out even more, leaving a small but incredibly devoted bunch left cheering on their team.

If the defense had been a liability during the first three quarters, they became absolutely elite down the stretch of the game. On a 3rd and 15, David Perales made his way around the corner of the line and knocked the ball out of Mayden’s hand, and Johnny Hudson returned it back to the 10yd line. Even though they couldn’t get the ball into the endzone, it looked like they could at least tack on a field goal to make it an 8 point game. The night got spookier though, as San Diego State was able to get a hand on the kick, and it fell harmlessly to the turf in the checkerboard endzone.

The defense came up huge again in this game, forcing a final punt for the Aztecs after a false start penalty and 3 rushes only yielded 5 yards. The comeback almost fell apart though as Nikko Remigio fumbled the punt, but was able to fall on it at the 20, giving the Bulldogs a long field and no timeouts to do it in. For anyone who remembered last year’s UCLA win, you must have known that Jake Haener has that magic in him. Zane Pope and Nikko Remigio were the heroes of the game all night, and they proved it once again on this drive. Jake completed 6 passes to the two of them, along with one each to Jordan Mims, Jalen Moreno-Cropper, and Erik Brooks. Jordan Mims punched the ball in from 3 yards away to send the game to 28-23, and Zane Pope brought in the 2pt conversion to the make the game only a field goal affair.

It had been 7 years since Fresno State had last converted an onside kick, but there was magic in the air this night. Dylan Lynch’s onside attempt went straight at Tyrell Shavers, and the ball bounced off of his left hand, and Zane Pope came up with one more heroic moment as he grabbed the ball before it could go out of bounds. And with that, Fresno State was truly back to life. On the first play back on offense, Jake Haener would lace a pass perfectly to Nikko Remigio, who broke out of a tackle before running 37yds to the endzone, sending the stadium into absolute pandemonium. Fresno State had scored two touchdowns in 13 seconds, and roared back from 28-17 to take the lead 32-28. Like I said earlier, Jake Haener is truly a magician, and late night Mountain West football is truly an experience that everyone needs in their life.

Even though Fresno had come back and taken the lead, the game was not over yet. The Aztecs would have 50 seconds and two timeouts to try to get down the field, although they’d need a touchdown to win the game. Jalen Mayden wound up to throw the ball deep to Jesse Matthews, but his pass floated just enough for Carlton Johnson to snag it out of the air. Every celebration penalty that came after that play was worth it, as Valley Children’s Stadium blew up. What seemed like a complete impossibility just a few minutes before was now a legendary victory for the Old Oil Can. Jake would kneel the ball twice, and the celebration was on in Fresno.

Zane Pope was far and away the offensive player of the game, as he racked up 10 catches for 143yds, 1 TD, 1 2pt conversion, and the onside kick recovery to set up the win. Nikko Remigio finished right behind him, with 10 catches for 126 yards and 2 touchdowns, including the go-ahead score. Jake Haener came back looking like himself, going 34/45 for 394 yards and 3 scores. It truly will always be a what could have been if he didn’t get hurt against USC. But we have him back now, we have Evan Williams back, we have Josh Kelly back, and we are in firm control of the West Division. Hawaii comes to town next Saturday in the Golden Screwdriver game, while San Diego State will return home to face a suddenly reeling UNLV squad. Bowl games appear to be on the cards for both teams, but it’s pretty fair to say that both have fallen short of pre-season expectations.

That’s it for this weekend. Stay tuned here for all of your Mountain West news, and I’ll be off to try to convince the school to begin work on the Jake Haener statue. A 50ft statue should work well in the Red Lot.