Aztecs crowned Mountain West champions with 27-24 win over Air Force

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Aztecs crowned Mountain West champions with 27-24 win over Air Force

by Anthony Reclusado, Senior Staff Writer

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It took a full four quarters, four ties and a few last-second key plays for the San Diego State Aztecs to topple the Air Force Academy Falcons to take a spot alone atop the mountain.

With a 27-24 victory the Aztecs were crowned the 2015 Mountain West champions and finished with an perfect mark in conference play.

“You dream about moments like this so when it finally happens it is crazy,” redshirt-freshman quarterback Christian Chapman said. “I’m still waiting for the emotions to set in.”

The Falcons (8-5, 6-3 MW) gave the Aztecs (10-3, 9-0 MW) their toughest test throughout SDSU’s nine-game winning streak that had the 20,959 fans on the edge of their seats the entire game.

In his first career start, Chapman proved no stage is too big as his stellar second-half play earned him the game’s offensive MVP award. Offensive coordinator Jeff Horton hesitated to open up the playbook for Chapman, but quickly realized if the Aztecs had a shot to win he had to open up that playbook.

“We thought he would play well,” SDSU head coach Rocky Long said. “We had a lot of confidence he would play well. We had no idea that he would play as good as he did and thank goodness he did, because we needed him to play like that in order to win.”

Chapman ended 9-of-14 with 203 yards and one touchdown pass, as well as six rushes for 32 yards. He gouged the Air Force defense that stacked the box and allowed him to make throws in man-to-man coverage, with his receivers often winning the battle.

His lone touchdown came on the first play of the second quarter as he found a streaking junior running back Donnel Pumphrey down the sideline outpacing the defender.

The two connected again on SDSU’s final possession of the half on a 40-yard pass up the seam to the Air Force 25-yard line. Chapman’s inexperience with the starting receivers was on display later on the drive as he threw a ball behind senior Jemond Hazely on a quick slant route in the end zone.

The young quarterback also received some help from his running backs.

Pumphrey did his damage both on the ground and through the air. The recently named MW Offensive Player of the Year had a combined 154 total yards — 90 rushing yards and 64 receiving yards.

But it was Pumphrey who uncharacteristically made the key errors in the first quarter that kept the Aztec offense from taking the early momentum.

On the opening drive SDSU successfully converted a fourth-and-1 from their 46-yard line only to have it negated by an illegal formation penalty on Pumphrey.

The following Aztec drive saw similar success with Chapman connecting with sophomore wide receiver Mikah Holder for a touchdown, which was called back due to a chop block. The culprits: senior fullback Dakota Gordon and Pumphrey.

However, it was the Aztec defense that came up huge for SDSU and led the team to victory. When it mattered most and with the game still anyone’s to take, the Aztec defense held the high-powered Falcons’ triple option to two consecutive three-and-outs.

“We changed a couple of defenses late in the game right before they snapped the ball and that is kind of hard to do,” Long said. “But it worked and it helped us win the game.”

The decisive score came off the often-reliable boot of senior kicker Donny Hageman from 46 yards out.

It was a back-and-forth affair the entire night, with neither team gaining more than a seven-point advantage. The Aztecs faced three deficits.

“Did I have any concern that our players would stop playing? None whatsoever,” Long said. “That is the kind of kids that they are.”

The Falcons scored on their opening drive of the second half with the key play of the drive coming on a 32-yard fumble recovery.

SDSU junior defensive lineman Alex Barrett forced an fumble by junior fullback Jacobi Owens that was inadvertently kicked by a Falcon player and recovered by senior tight end Garret Griffin on the Aztecs’ 28-yard line.

SDSU responded, as it did all night, with a 6:36-minute drive behind a 23-yard run by senior fullback Dakota Gordon on a fourth-and-1. He eventually rumbled his way to paydirt from a yard out.

After forcing a quick Falcon punt the Aztecs were on the move again with Chapman leading the way. With a clean pocket he was able to step into his throw and accurately pinpoint Hazely down the middle of the field for a 44-yard reception.

The next play sophomore running back Rashaad Penny scampered his way in from 28 yards out and gave SDSU its first lead of the game at 24-17.

Air Force quickly quieted the Aztec faithful as senior quarterback Karson Roberts flashed his speed and elusiveness on his 51-yard run to the SDSU 5-yard line, with junior safety Malik Smith being flagged for a horse-collar tackle on the end of the run.

Sophomore running back Timothy McVey capped off the drive with a 2-yard pitch.

Hageman’s game-winning field goal was set up a few minutes later by Chapman’s 48-yard bomb to Holder and 13-yard connection with senior wide receiver Eric Judge.

This title marks the Aztecs’ 20th conference title and their first outright since 1986 when they were members of the Western Athletic Conference.

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