Aztecs put together an entire team effort in a woodshed beatdown against the Spartans, winning 43-27
On a cool fall evening at Snapdragon Stadium, the Aztecs were set to host the San Jose State Spartans in a matchup that could make the Aztecs bowl eligible. All that was in their way was the Spartan's vaunted defense, dynamic offense, and a hot team that had won five of their last six games. Led by the conference's offensive leader, Chevan Cordeiro, the Spartans had been clicking, winning their last two games with strong second-half performances. The Aztecs seemed ready for the task, as they entered the field through their 50-yard line portal with fireworks and flames. Winning the coin toss, the Aztecs elected to defer, putting their defense on the field against the Spartan's offense. What happened during the next ten minutes certainly could have dejected even the staunchest Aztec supporter. San Jose State used two drives to take an early 14-0 lead. Cordeiro connected with Elijah Cooks for a four-yard TD and ran in himself for three yards. The first series saw an ESPN highlight one-handed grab by Cooks which certainly was one of the most amazing catches of the year. It seemed the Spartans were clearly in the driver's seat. Jordan Byrd, clearly had second thoughts on the ensuing kickoff as he returned it up the Spartan's sideline 95 yards for a momentum-turning touchdown.
By this time, Spartan fans were still feeling optimistic about how the team had started. Their previous games had been slow-starting affairs, with the Spartans finishing strong. The Aztecs seemed to have other plans for the game, as they managed to maintain their composure and confidence and turn a fourteen point deficit into a consistent and balanced performance on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Jalen Mayden continues his matriculation as the team leader. Despite starting off slow by throwing an interception on his first drive, he settled in nicely and finished with an impressive 17/22 for 268 yards, 3 TD’s and the one pick. He was sacked twice by the Spartans. More importantly, Mayden had 13 rushing attempts for 61 yards. He managed the the QB option play with ease, picking up chunks of yards as Spartan defenders missed him at the line of scrimmage with regularity. San Jose State ends Viliemi Fehoko and Cade Hall were effectively neutralized, ending the game with a combined 7 tackles. Linebacker Kyle Harmon finished with a game-high 10 tackles, showing the Aztec running backs were able to get to the second level. The Aztecs dominated the trenches on both sides of the ball, throwing confusion into the Spartan's line play. After spotting the Spartans a quick fourteen points, the Aztecs would hold them to punts for the next two quarters and score the next 38 points. The Aztecs would take the lead for good when Mayden launched a sideline pass for a wide open Tyrell Shavers and he took it the rest of the way for a 66 yard score. One more TD pass to Mekhi Shaw and the Aztecs would lead 24-14 at halftime. The halftime adjustments would continue in the Aztecs favor in the second half. They took the kickoff and marched down for a Mayden to Jesse Matthews 20 yard strike. The Aztecs would score again on a Jaylon Armstead two yard run and the Aztecs were cruising 38-14. The Spartans would add two more touchdown passes to finish out the scoring, but that was merely just for stats as the game had been over since the first drive of the third quarter. Aztec coach Brady Hoke described Mayden in the following: “I thought (he) did a great job...when it was time for him to run the ball...I thought he did a great job with it. Then, when we threw the ball, I thought we threw it well.” Certainly no argument with how Mayden performed
Aztec offense makes the highlight reel
The Aztec's offense showed up in a big way Saturday, in front of 28,406 fans, scoring their most points of the year. They managed to put up the most complete game so far in a very important must-win scenario. They are now bowl-eligible as they prepare to travel to New Mexico for next week's game. The question is can they continue with this momentum or was this a one-off? It seems they were clicking on all cylinders, making good decisions, and receivers getting open. The running backs got into the secondary, allowing for decent yards gained. The Aztecs doubled the time of possession and led in total yards 425 to 223. They also dominated in first downs, 23-14. The Spartans made nearly all their statistical gains during their first two and last two scoring drives. In between, the game was won by the Aztecs. Mayden led all rushers with 61 yards, Armstead had 46 more. The team accounted for 157 yards on 45 rushes. Those are clock-chewing plays. Through the air, Tyrell Shavers had four catches for 111 yards and a score, Shaw had 5 catches for 64 yards and a score and Matthews had four catches, 57 yards and a score. Jordan Byrd contributed with 2 catches, but he made his mark on the kickoffs with his momentum-shifting return. The Aztec season has played out in a series of Shakespearean acts. The drama of the couch carousel, the loss of the starting quarterback, the unknown hero on the sidelines stepping in to save the team. Can this momentum carry on for the remainder of the season? The Aztecs have won four of their last five and should be on a five-game win streak, the Fresno State debacle notwithstanding. With the running game, passing game, receiving game and special teams all clicking, the Aztecs look to be in a lock for second place in the division and will be playing in one of the bowl games. Momentum has finally gelled just in time.
Braxton Burmeister did not suit up for the game. Dallas Branch had a late game interception of a Chevan Cordeiro pass. Jack Browning was 2/2 in field goals and punted twice for a 38 yard average. San Jose State tight end Dominick Mazotti did not make the trip due to injury. In addition, wide receiver Charles Ross was a scratch and tight end Sam Olson went out with an injury on the first series and did not return. Cooper McDonald led the Aztecs with 7 tackles, 1 sack and 2 tackles for loss. Jonah Tavai was in the Spartans backfield all night with 3 sacks and 3 tackles for loss. Looking at the Aztecs performance, this was just what the doctor had ordered. One game is not enough to establish a body of work, but this is a start. Win the next two games and end the season 8-4 and await the bowl selection committee. If you’re San Jose State, you’ve got some serious soul-searching to climb back from a loss like this. An 8-3 record is still on the horizon, but they will need to find answers in a hurry. The Aztecs would love to have the Boise and Fresno games back. One was a dominant loss and the other was a heartbreaking letdown. It seems the Aztecs have turned the corner and will help to give the conference strong bowl representation.