FOOTBALL: SDSU wins for the seniors in home finale

by Staff

Sampson, who had a monster day with six receptions for 128 yards and two scores, torched UNLV’s secondary. Copyright Antonio Zaragoza / Staff Photographer

Saturday’s blowout victory gives team its most wins in 33 years

By Agustin Gonzalez, Assistant Sports Editor

The San Diego State football team’s senior class has a “Big Three” on offense. And during senior night they all combined in dominating fashion.

Dynamic receivers DeMarco Sampson and Vincent Brown and do-it-all running back Brandon Sullivan led SDSU to a 48-14 win Saturday against an overmatched UNLV football team at Qualcomm Stadium, or as head coach Brady Hoke refers to it, “Aztec Warrior Stadium.”

Sampson, who finished with 128 receiving yards and two scores, was just happy the seniors showed the underclassmen how to take care of business.

“It makes us happy that we are showing the young guys how to finish,” Sampson said. “That’s what this really is about — we are leaders. We have to lead the young guys. All week we have been talking about `playing for the seniors’ but in reality, we are playing for the young guys and trying to be examples.”

The Rebels (2-10, 2-6 Mountain West Conference) came from behind and beat the Aztecs on a last-minute touchdown last season. This time, though, SDSU (8-4, 5-3 MWC) made sure that wouldn’t happen again. The Aztecs dominated from the opening drive onward to attain a big lead, and ended up cruising to an easy victory.

Junior quarterback Ryan Lindley tossed a 17-yard touchdown pass to Sullivan on SDSU’s first drive of the game. Sampson followed that up with touchdown catches of 41 and 50 yards, coming just 1:14 apart, to close out the first half up 31-7.

Freshman running back Ronnie Hillman added a 10-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, and Brown’s touchdown reception and junior kicker Abel Perez’s 53-yard field goal rounded out the scoring.

UNLV, which only mustered one 27-yard touchdown all night, managed a late fumble recovery for a touchdown. But after the Aztec defense held the Rebels to only 234 total yards on offense, the game was already in the bag.

This season’s eight wins matches the team’s highest season total since 1977, when SDSU won 10 games.

“We played a complete football game for 60 minutes and we wanted to do that for our seniors,” Hoke said. “… Our kickoff coverage in the first half was atrocious, but offensively we controlled the line of scrimmage and as the game progressed, we did so defensively as well.”

The Aztecs, who finish up the season as the only team in the country to produce a 3,000-yard passer (Lindley), two 1,000-yard receivers (Brown and Sampson) and a 1,000-yard rusher (Hillman), will likely play Navy (8-3) in the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 23 at Qualcomm Stadium.

Hillman made history as well, breaking the Mountain West Conference single season freshman rushing record with his 152-yard night. With Sullivan graduating, Hillman will be looking to have more touches next year in his sophomore campaign.

This win against UNLV comes nearly a week after Hoke’s  meeting with University of Minnesota Athletic Director Joel Maturi, but Hoke downplayed all questions about the specifics of the talks when asked about it by reporters after the game. According to him, the win was all about the upperclassmen.

“I am so happy for these kids and for the seniors,” Hoke said. “It’s so important to have the opportunity to play one more game, but at the same time we finished our regular season the way we wanted to as a football team.”