Bulldogs bite Bawden, beat Aztecs 24-13

Jenna Mackey, Photo Editor

by Matthew Bain, Senior Staff Writer

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The San Diego State Aztecs (2-3, 1-1 Mountain West) lost 24-13 to the California State University, Fresno Bulldogs (3-3, 2-0 Mountain West) on Friday in Fresno. This marks the third consecutive season that the Bulldogs have claimed the Oil Can trophy.

SDSU’s offense struggled all night with true freshman quarterback Nick Bawden behind center. Bawden completed nine of 24 passes for 84 yards, one touchdown and two crucial interceptions.

“You’ve got to be patient with freshmen,” head coach Rocky Long said after the game. “They’re going to have more bad days than a veteran guy will, so you’ve got to get him through this bad day.”

The Aztecs began the game with two consecutive three-and-outs, in which Bawden completed zero passes and sophomore running back Donnel Pumphrey gained just eight yards.

Much to SDSU’s relief, Fresno State’s offense wasn’t playing much better. Senior cornerback J.J. Whittaker intercepted junior quarterback Brian Burrell on his third pass, forcing the Bulldogs to settle for a field goal on their next possession.

The tides soon appeared to be turning in SDSU’s favor. Freshman wide receiver Kameron Kelly returned Fresno State’s kickoff 56 yards to the Bulldog 42-yard line. However, two plays later, Bawden carried the ball himself, got hit hard and fumbled the ball. Fresno State would then proceed to drive the ball methodically down the field to go ahead 10-0 with 2:56 remaining in the first quarter.

SDSU offensive coordinator Bob Toledo shifted gears and focused on pounding the ball with Pumphrey, junior running back Chase Price and junior fullback Dakota Gordon on the next possession. Bawden handed off the ball for nine straight plays and his backs gained 60 yards. However, Bawden couldn’t make his first completion of the game to convert on third down and the Aztecs settled for a 24-yard field goal by junior kicker Donny Hageman.

In the rest of the second quarter, Bawden made his first career NCAA completion to junior wide receiver Larry Clark. Not much else happened, though, as the two teams traded empty possessions and the Bulldogs led 10-3 at halftime.

SDSU came out of the half with guns blazing — on the ground, that is.

Pumphrey ran the ball six times in the first two Aztec drives of the third quarter. He gained 23 yards on those carries, but SDSU couldn’t capitalize deep in Bulldog territory. Hageman knocked through his second field goal of the day, this time from 36 yards, and the Aztecs trailed 10-6 with 8:11 left in the third.

Here’s where things got interesting.

The Aztec defense continued to stifle the Bulldog offense and forced a punt. However, sophomore tight end Daniel Brunskill was called for roughing the passer after he knocked down Fresno States’ punter while attempting the block. However, television replays seemed to show Brunskill slightly blocking the punt with his fingertips, and the punt only traveled 23 yards. If Brunskill touched the punt, then the roughing the punter call would have been negated. But after review, referees maintained their decision that Brunskill didn’t touch the punt, and the Bulldogs began their drive with a fresh set of downs.

Eight plays later, Fresno State would score its second touchdown on a 2-yard rush by senior running back Josh Quezada. The Bulldogs led 17-6 with 2:49 left in the third quarter.

Bawden suddenly looked like a veteran on SDSU’s next drive, though, leading a 14-play, 79-yard touchdown drive that culminated in a 5-yard touchdown pass to senior fullback Adam Roberts.

SDSU’s defense forced Fresno State into two straight three-and-outs and gave the offense a chance to take the lead late in the fourth quarter. However, Bawden threw two interceptions, and by the time he and the offense got the ball again, Fresno State was ahead 24-13 with 3:24 left in the game.

As much as SDSU’s offense struggled, the Aztecs lost because of turnovers and penalties. Coach Long’s squad turned it over three times and committed seven penalties for 74 yards.

When a team gives up the ball three times and hands 74 extra yards to an opponent, it’s hard to win.

“(The defense) came up big and we turned the ball over, and you can’t turn the ball over,” Pumphrey said. “It’s as simple as that.”

The Aztecs travel to the University of New Mexico to play the Lobos next Saturday at 6:30 p.m. PST.

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