Aztecs stump Central Michigan 48-11 in New Mexico Bowl, finish 2019 with 10 wins

The+Aztecs+celebrate+with+their+bowl+championship+hats+after+their+48-11+victory+over+Central+Michigan+on+Dec.+21+at+Dreamstyle+Stadium+in+Albuquerque%2C+New+Mexico.

Photos by Kareem Jones

The Aztecs celebrate with their bowl championship hats after their 48-11 victory over Central Michigan on Dec. 21 at Dreamstyle Stadium in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

by Aaron Tolentino, Sports Editor

ALBUQUERQUE, NM –– The last time San Diego State football played in New Mexico it scored 31 points in a win over New Mexico State in Las Cruces on Sept. 14.

That was previously the Aztecs’ highest offensive output this season.

Three months and 225 miles south later, SDSU (10-3) returned to the state and topped its highest scoring performance during a 48-11 victory over Central Michigan (8-6) in the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 21 at Dreamstyle Stadium.

What did it take for both of the Aztecs’ highest scoring games this year?

Fittingly, it was a New Mexico native, sophomore running back Jordan Byrd.

Byrd, from Albuquerque’s Manzano High School, ran for 118 yards and two touchdowns on 22 attempts against New Mexico State.

He followed that up with 139 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries – good for New Mexico Bowl Co-Offensive MVP honors.

Something about playing in New Mexico brings out the best in Byrd who is reminded of his high school football days when taking the field as an Aztec.

“Brought me back to high school days,” Byrd said. “But coming here in December, it reminded me of the final game of the championship. It really brought back memories of what I did in that game.”

In that championship game back in December 2017, Byrd had 94 yards rushing and a touchdown on 21 carries to help Manzano finish 13-0 that season.

Maybe he was the only one that actually enjoyed the 42-degree weather at kickoff.

“I was telling one of our coaches that cold makes me feel faster,” Byrd added. “Coming back here and playing in the cold really felt good.”

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Jesse Matthews was responsible for six of SDSU’s 41 points, good for Co-Offensive MVP honors with Byrd.

Matthews recorded 111 yards receiving, two touchdowns and three catches – including a 74-yard score. Even with 45 catches and 522 yards prior to kickoff, Matthews has never caught a touchdown pass – until a 22-yard diving catch on the Aztecs’ fourth play of the day.

“It was pretty amazing,” Matthews said of the 74-yard touchdown. “I’m just glad I didn’t get caught. These guys were joking with me saying they didn’t know I had speed, so I had to show them a little something.”

The offense showed up for its most points scored since Nov. 18, 2017.

Defense sets New Mexico Bowl record

Sophomore cornerback Darren Hall celebrates a fumble recovery for a touchdown.

With the way the season progressed, there shouldn’t be much of surprise of the performance put up by the defense, which head coach Rocky Long called the “best defense” he’s had since he arrived at SDSU 11 years ago.

The Aztecs forced five Chippewa turnovers, setting a New Mexico Bowl record.

Two of them were forced fumbles – one on a muffed punt by Chippewas sophomore wide receiver Kalil Pimpleton and the other by SDSU junior defensive back Tariq Thompson, which was returned for a touchdown by sophomore cornerback Darren Hall.

Thompson also had an interception, along with senior cornerback Luq Barcoo who recorded his FBS-leading ninth interception of the season. Senior linebacker Kyahva Tezino tipped a pass from CMU senior Quinten Dormandy and intercepted the ball to give the Aztecs possession 43 seconds into the game from CMU’s 32-yard line. That allowed the Aztecs to strike quickly on Matthews’ 22-yard grab.

Tezino, the 2019 New Mexico Bowl Defensive MVP, said that turnover set the tone for the game.

“People are saying that was the game-setting play,” Tezino said. “I’m just out there trying to win the game because it’s my last time playing with this team.”

He finished the game with an interception, three tackles, 0.5 sacks and 1.5 tackles for loss.

 

Sophomore running back Jordan Byrd embraces senior quarterback Ryan Agnew after a touchdown run.

Fourth 10-win season in last five years

SDSU won its 10th game of the season in convincing fashion for its fourth 10-win season in the last five years (2015, 2016, 2017, 2019). In its Division I history since 1969, there were only eight such seasons. Throughout those 50 years, SDSU had four of those eight 10-win seasons happen in the last five years.

The program became the 10th team in the nation to have accomplished such a feat. The four 10-wins in five seasons club includes Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Georgia, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Boise State and Appalachian State.

After beating BYU for SDSU’s ninth win , Long was asked what another 10-win season would mean.

He seemed to have brushed off the potential accomplishment.

“Yeah, it’s another win,” he said on Nov. 30.

Now that he’s actually won that 10th game, Long said those 10-wins seasons are attributed to the “great” men in his program.

“I’m going to say it again; we’ve got great people in our program,” he said. “Last year (going 7-6), we lost our way, and this year’s senior class – with a lot of work – got us back to who we want to be, and that’s team guys first. We play and like each other, and we play together. Win, lose, draw, they’re all in it together.”

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