No. 22 Aztecs with historical 20-14 win against Air Force

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Andrew Finley

Senior defensive back Tayler Hawkins (9) and senior safety Trenton Thompson (18) having a discussion with the referee against Air Force.

by Andrew Finley, Assistant Sports Editor

The No. 22 San Diego State football team (7-0, 3-0 Mountain West Conference) are now 7-0 for the first time since 1975 after traveling to Colorado Springs and defeating the Air Force Falcons (6-2, 3-2 MWC) in what turned out to be a smash-mouth game between two of the top dogs in the Mountain West Conference, resulting in a 20-14 win for SDSU. 

The Aztecs got off to a hot start after junior defensive back Dallas Branch received his first career interception on the first drive of the game, and returned it to the Falcon 10-yard line. The ensuing drive for the Aztecs resulted in a field goal from junior kicker/punter Matt Araiza, giving the Aztecs an early 3-0 lead. 

The next score wouldn’t occur for another 19 minutes and 44 seconds. A turnover on downs gave the Aztecs the football back at the Falcons 42-yard line. The Aztecs methodically worked their way down the field for senior running back Keagun Williams to punch his way into the endzone for the first touchdown of the game and increased the Aztecs’ lead to 10-0. 

A force-fumble from Branch would be scooped up by freshman cornerback Noah Avenger, and eventually set Araiza up for a 51-yard field goal that increased SDSU’s lead to 13 as the two teams went into the locker room.

The Scarlet and Black came out of halftime swinging with a seven-play, 75-yard drive capped off by a three-yard rushing touchdown for senior running back Chance Bell. This would bump the Aztecs’ lead to 20 points, and it seemed as if SDSU would cruise to the finish line. 

Air Force wasn’t going to let that happen too easily. 

After trading punts in back-to-back drives, the Falcons would come screeching back with a methodical drive of their own, as they pushed their way to paydirt after an 11 play, 57-yard drive, capped off by a controversial 13-yard passing touchdown from senior quarterback Warren Bryan. The play was originally called a touchdown, then incomplete, and then a touchdown again upon further review. Hoke said he wants that play to get looked at again. 

“Oh yeah, there’s no doubt about it; in my opinion, I didn’t think it was a catch,” Hoke said. “We’ll sort it out, and the good thing is that we won the football game.”

Air Force wasn’t done after their first score. After forcing the Aztecs to punt, the Falcons went on a 15 play, 89-yard drive that took six minutes, 33 seconds and ended with a three-yard touchdown run on fourth and goal from sophomore running back Dane Kinamon. That cut the Aztecs’ lead to 20-14 with four minutes left in the fourth quarter. 

With momentum on Air Force’s side and a six-point lead, it was up to the Aztecs to keep the Falcons out of the endzone, and secure their seventh straight win of 2021. 

The Scarlet and Black couldn’t have started that plan in a worse way, going three-and-out and punting the ball back to Air Force immediately following their touchdown drive. This gave the Falcons the ball back with over two minutes left in the game, and two timeouts at their disposal in order to make a potential game-winning drive. 

The Air Force offense came out firing but failed to make any ground on their first two plays. The very run-heavy Falcons attempted two passes and overthrew two wide-open receivers to start the drive. A three-yard rush made it fourth down and the most important seven yards either team would have to gain for the entire game. 

The Falcons ended up converting on fourth down with a 14-yard pass completed to senior receiver Brandon Lewis, but, hold the phone, there’s a flag on the play — a clipping called against Air Force made it fourth and 15. The Falcons opted to punt and hoped the Aztecs would turn the ball back over to them with time to spare. 

The Scarlet and Black would call upon Williams to seal the game. After rushing twice for 11 total yards on the drive, all the Aztecs had to do was kneel the ball down and watch the clock tick down to zero, giving SDSU the 20-14 victory and the team’s first 7-0 start since Jaws was released into theaters. 

Hoke reflected on the significance of the rare feat the team made at Falcon Stadium and gave a lot of the credit to his players.

“I was watching Jaws in ‘75 that’s for sure,” Hoke said. “These kids have done a great job. I like the leadership from those guys who have been in the program, and I think, as a group, they care.” 

The Aztecs take on Fresno State (6-2, 3-1 MWC) for the highly contested Battle for the Old Oil Can on Saturday, Oct. 30 in Carson, California, and look to stay undefeated as well as remain at the top of the conference.