Photo by Kelly Smiley
It was a scorcher of a Saturday night for the first game of the 2017 San Diego State football season, where the defending Mountain West Conference champions brought the heat to visiting UC Davis, holding off a late surge to come away with a 38-17 victory.
The Aztecs welcomed the Aggies to town for a battle between two teams going head to head for the first time in history. The temperature at kickoff was 95 degrees, making it the second-highest temperature to start a game in SDSU football history.
The Aztecs’ defense made quick work of Davis, recording an interception during its first possession of the game. SDSU true freshman safety Tariq Thompson recorded his first career interception, picking off a pass that was tipped in the air by junior linebacker Jay Henderson.
Head coach Rocky Long spoke after the game about the performance of his defense, and noted that the youth of the squad could become an issue as the season goes on.
“This is the youngest defense we’ve had since I’ve been here by far, because if you take the starters out of there you see what you get,” Long said. “We have a couple veterans that backup that we would move around if we had to… but if we lose a couple of those veteran guys, the guys you saw playing in the fourth quarter, those are the guys playing.”
The Aggies scored two touchdowns against SDSU’s reserve defense in the fourth quarter.
The Aztecs capitalized on the early turnover, with junior kicker John Baron II converting a 39-yard field goal after a 12-play, 57-yard opening drive that was punctuated by a 17-yard-run from senior running back Rashaad Penny.
SDSU quickly built its lead to 10-0 following a 61-yard Penny touchdown run on the first play of its second drive. It wouldn’t take long for Penny to eclipse 100 yards rushing, needing only 10 carries to reach the mark early in the second quarter.
Penny ended the first half with 153 yards on 14 carries, before finishing the game with 197 yards on 21 attempts.
Penny spoke after the game about how excited he was to be getting his chance to be the team’s feature back.
“It was exciting, I mean I knew I was going to get this opportunity by just waiting and being patient,” Penny said.
Penny also made sure to give credit to his young offensive line, featuring four players making their first career starts, who held their own while the Aztecs rushed for a combined 276 total yards.
“I think they did awesome, they were blocking their tails off for us and they made big holes for us to run through,” Penny said. “They’re just going to get better each week.”
UC Davis finally got on the board with a 23-yard field goal from sophomore kicer Max O’Rourke with 2:10 left in the first quarter, completing a 61-yard drive that was helped out by two 15-yard Aztecs penalties, including a personal foul and a pass interference call near the goalline.
Following an interception on the Aggies own 31 yard line from sophomore SDSU cornerback Ron Smith, the Aztecs took advantage of the good starting field position and extended their lead to 17-3, scoring on a 7-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Kahale Warring from redshirt junior quarterback Christian Chapman, who completed 16 of 21 passes in the game for 220 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
Chapman was encouraged after the game with his team’s performance, and believes in the offensive talent around him.
“Our receiving corps is really good this year, we’ve got a lot of weapons,” Chapman said. “You’ve seen what we can do in the running game, and the passing game so we’re gonna be good.”
The Aztecs would later return the favor to UC Davis after junior wide receiver Fred Trevillion fumbled the ball at SDSU’s 43 yard line, and the Aggies quickly moved into scoring position field following a 30-yard strike from Maier to junior wide receiver Keelan Doss. Davis’s drive stalled however when they were unable to convert a 4th-and-13 inside the red zone.
Following the turnover on downs, the Aztecs, starting from their own 11 yard line, proceeded to drive 89 yards in six plays for their third touchdown of the game. 51 yards came on the ground from Penny, who scored his second touchdown of the night while taking the ball into the end zone from nine yards out to give SDSU the 24-3 halftime lead.
In the second half the Aztecs continued where they left off, with senior tight end Darryl Richardson splitting two defenders en route to a 21-yard touchdown reception, widening SDSU’s lead to 31-3.
The Aztecs most impressive drive of the game came later in the third quarter, when they converted a 9-play 99-yard drive that was finished off by a four-yard touchdown run from sophomore running back Juwan Washington, increasing the SDSU lead to 38-3.
Long was pleased after the game about the performance from his top two running backs, and made sure to give the offensive line their credit.
“I was happy for the offensive line. We know those two guys can run with the ball,” Long said. “But they don’t get to run with the ball unless the big boys upfront do a pretty good job, and I thought the offensive line got better as the game went along.”
The final quarter belonged to the UC Davis offense, which scored two touchdowns in the final frame on drives of 95 and 50 yards. Both scores came courtesy of throws from Maier, with a 32-yard pass to Doss, who finished with a game-high 181 receiving yards on eight receptions, and a 7-yard pass to freshman wide receiver Logan Montgomery.