Aztecs outlast the Utes 33-31 in overtime thriller

Linebackers+Segun+Olubi+and+Caden+McDonald+celebrate+with+defensive+back+Tayler+Hawkins+after+a+third+quarter+interception.

Andrew Finley

Linebacker’s Segun Olubi and Caden McDonald celebrate with defensive back Tayler Hawkins after a third quarter interception.

In a game that featured just about everything, San Diego State football took home the win 33-31 in a hard-fought overtime battle at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, CA. This is their second win against a Pac-12 program in as many weeks and the seventh Pac-12 victory for the Aztecs since 2016.

Senior quarterback Jordan Brookshire was seen limping on the sidelines prior to the start of the game, which meant senior Lucas Johnson was thrust into the starting job. 

“You’ve got to go after every day like you’re the starter in practice,” Johnson said. “My number was called tonight and I’m just happy that I was able to do my part and help this team win.”

Both teams were forced to punt on their first drive as the offenses couldn’t get going. After some sluggish play from both squads — two big special teams plays highlighted an otherwise uneventful first half.

Utah junior Britain Covey returned junior Matt Araiza’s punt 80 yards for a touchdown for the first score of the game. Senior Jordan Byrd saw that and took it personally.

After a Utah field goal midway through the second quarter gave the Utes a 10-3 lead, Byrd took the kickoff 100 yards to the house that electrified the stadium and tied the score at ten apiece. 

“I saw the kickoff flow to the right side on the first kickoff, I told my return coach and he believed in me and believed in my team that they were gonna make those blocks,” Byrd said.

The Aztecs and Utes were a combined 1-16 on third down and neither team surpassed 100 yards of total offense by the end of the first half. The teams entered the locker room tied 10-10 at halftime with everything to play for. 

After a lackluster performance on the ground by their standards (56 yards) an emphasis to punish the Utes with the running game was apparent on the first drive of the second half for the Aztecs. The drive was highlighted by a huge Johnson 54-yard run that set up the Aztecs with a first and goal. Senior running back Greg Bell finished the drive with a seven-yard touchdown run. 

The Aztecs were able to pester the Utah quarterbacks all night with three sacks and constant pressure on senior Charlie Brewer and sophomore Cameron Rising. The change at quarterback came after an interception and a few drives that stalled to begin the second half. 

Lucas Johnson catches a two-point conversion in overtime to give the Aztecs the lead.
Lucas Johnson catches a two-point conversion in overtime to give the Aztecs the lead. (Andrew Finley)
Johnson and lineman Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson celebrate after scoring what would eventually be the game winning conversion in overtime.
Johnson and lineman Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson celebrate after scoring what would eventually be the game-winning conversion in overtime. (Andrew Finley)

A clutch interception by senior cornerback Tayler Hawkins set the Aztecs up in a nice spot for another Bell touchdown to stretch the SDSU lead to 24-10. Up to this point, the Aztecs outgained the Utes 114-46 in the third quarter without completing a single pass.

While Araiza did not have his best day kicking the ball through the uprights — making one from 51 yards and two misses from 48 and 36 yards — his booming punts set Utah up with less than ideal field position on multiple occasions. Araiza punted ten times on Saturday night with an average distance of 54 yards and a long of 77 yards. 

“We’re very fortunate to have Matt with his skill set and what he brings — sometimes you get concerned he’s going to outkick the coverage but he hits them so far people have had a hard time really judging him,” head coach Brady Hoke said. 

The start of the fourth quarter began with the Aztecs still on top 24-10. Both teams traded punts before a Utah 10-play, 63-yard drive to give them their first offensive touchdown of the game, but a missed extra point kept the SDSU lead at eight. With 4:13 minutes left on the clock, the Aztecs’ offense went out on the field to put the game away. A couple of runs by Bell gave the Aztecs a first down, but Utah subsequently got a stop with 2:36 left to play.

Rising methodically moved the Utes down the field using a mix of run and pass while using his legs to avoid danger, something Brewer was unable to do. The drive culminated in a four-yard touchdown pass with 16 seconds on the clock. Rising found a wide-open receiver in the back of the end zone for a successful two-point conversion to send the game to overtime tied 24-24. 

The new college football overtime rules give each team a possession for the first overtime: If both teams are still tied, the process is repeated for the second overtime but teams are forced to attempt a two-point conversion after the touchdown, a change that Hoke agreed with.

“I think it’s probably a good change,” Hoke said. “With the old rules, you’re maybe getting done with a football game at 11 o’clock and getting home at three in the morning — taking some of the wear and tear out should help us.

The Aztecs and Utes traded touchdowns in the first OT period, tying the game at 31 apiece. The Utes second drive stalled and ended with a missed field goal. All the Aztecs needed was a field goal to win the game. After a few runs by Bell, Matt Araiza trotted out to attempt the game-winner but pushed the ball wide right from 36 yards. 

The rules now call for alternating two-point conversion attempts. As if the game did not have enough madness, Brady Hoke calls a play that was made famous in Super Bowl VII: the “Philly Special.” It worked to perfection as junior wide receiver Jesse Matthews took the end-around handoff and completed a pass to Johnson in the end zone to give the Aztecs a 33-31 advantage.

“When we got to that situation where we had to go for two, I knew what the play was going to be and they executed it,” Hoke said .”It was great to see all that hard work and execution pay off.” 

Utah gained possession with a chance to tie the game with a two-point conversion of their own. Rising’s pass across the field to the left corner of the end zone appeared to have found freshman receiver Connor O’Toole to tie the game once again.

Upon further review, however, the nose of the ball hit the ground and the referees ruled it an incomplete pass, ending the game in dramatic fashion.

After the ruling, Aztec players rushed the north end zone in elation and celebrated with the fans that made the two-hour drive up north. 

The Aztecs (3-0) are set to take on the Towson Tigers (2-1 FCS) this Saturday at Dignity Health Sports Park before they begin Mountain West Conference play.

Senior lineman Chris Martinez revels in the moment after the triple overtime victory versus Utah. The Aztecs have defeated both of their Pac-12 opponents in 2021.
Senior lineman Chris Martinez revels in the moment after the triple-overtime victory versus Utah. The Aztecs have defeated both of their Pac-12 opponents in 2021. (Andrew Finley)
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