Down 24-14 in the third quarter to Washington State, things weren’t looking good for the San Diego State football team, but this year’s installment of Aztecs is different than SDSU teams of the past.
Usually known to fold in tough situations, this Aztecs squad finished under pressure for the second consecutive week.
Thanks to dazzling runs by Ronnie Hillman, stout second-half defense and an electrifying atmosphere from the crowd, SDSU rallied to score the game’s final 28 points and defeat the Cougars 42-24.
The win means the Aztecs are 3-0 for the first time in thirty years. The victory also snapped a 19-game losing streak to Pac-12 teams dating back to 1995 and a 23-game losing streak to BCS-teams.
Throughout the last couple of years, the SDSU football team has had almost no home-field advantage to speak of.
It was something that peeved former head coach Brady Hoke and something current head coach Rocky Long would like to change.
All of that was different on Saturday night, when Aztec fans set a regular-season school record with an attendance of 57,286.
The crowd was loud and helped inspire the SDSU players.
Long opened his post-game press conference by talking about the fan support and the impact it had on the team.
“I thought the crowd was unbelievable, I thought the student section was special,” Long said. “I thought we had a home-field advantage for the first time since I’ve been here and that’s awesome. Sometimes fans don’t realize what a boost they can give to the home team when things aren’t going well.”
After the success of last year, it appears the fans are buying into what the Aztecs are selling this year.
This was SDSU’s second straight home game with an attendance of more than 30,000 people.
The newfound support comes as no surprise to senior quarterback Ryan Lindley.
“It’s a given, people are going to watch a winner,” Lindley said. “I hope we’re going to continue to win and people are going to continue to come out. We appreciate the support whole-heartedly. When it comes down to it, it’s about us playing football and playing good football and people will come out to see.”
Ronnie runs wild
It’s starting to get to the point with sophomore running back Ronnie Hillman that a 191 yard, four touchdown performance isn’t even surprising anymore.
He’s been that good so far this season.
This performance seemed to be a little more important though.
The running game wore down WSU in the second half and helped the Aztecs break the game open in the fourth quarter.
Lindley has become used to the sight of Hillman make big run after big run.
“I’m a little bit of a perfectionist so I almost expect it from him now,” Lindley said sarcastically after the game.
Hillman’s ability to finish games had become somewhat of a question recently.
Against Cal Poly, Hillman wasn’t able to finish the game because of cramps. Against Army, Hillman didn’t finish the game either.
This week Hillman finished off the game and the Cougars in dominating fashion.
The always-humble Hillman praised the effort of his offensive line, which made his performance possible.
“I didn’t take anybody’s will, my offensive line did,” Hillman said after the game. “I just ran, so kudos to them. They did all the work.”
Defense standing tall
On the first offensive play of the game, the SDSU defense gave up an 80-yard touchdown pass.
It appeared the shootout all the prognosticators had predicted was coming to fruition as WSU had been moving the ball well throughout two and a half quarters.
Midway through the third quarter, the Aztecs defense put an end to any thought of a scoring fest.
The defense came to life starting in the third and kept the Cougars at bay for the rest of the game.
Leon McFadden noted that it took some time for the defense to get things right after a sloppy first half.
“We were kind of shaky at first,” McFadden said. “But at halftime we nailed it down to our technique and what our alignments need to be in.”
The defensive star of the fourth quarter had to be senior defensive back Larry Parker. Parker had two interceptions of Jeff Lobbestael passes that helped seal the game for SDSU.
The WSU receivers had success against the Aztec defensive backs but Parker was able to put the bad plays behind him.
“No matter what happens, just focus on the next play,” Parker said. “Make every play your best play. I just kept going, kept playing and never gave up.”
After rallying to finish off Washington State, it seems that never giving up might be a theme for SDSU this season.