By Ken Ables (Twitter: @ka619sd)
Every social media post from Aztec Football includes the hashtag #Win22 – their goal of winning the program’s 22nd conference championship. Six years ago, the Aztecs won their 20th conference championship – and first of the conference championship game era – a 27-24 victory over the Air Force Falcons at Qualcomm Stadium.
The non-conference portion of the 2015 schedule was less than spectacular. After an opening win over an overmatched USD, the Aztecs lost their next three games and entered conference play 1-3.
Led by graduate transfer QB Maxwell Smith, the Aztecs opened MW play with a 21-7 win over Fresno State. Followed by a win at Hawai’I, a win at San Jose State, beating Utah State at home, a win at Colorado State, a home win over Wyoming, a win at UNLV. The regular season finale was a 17-10 home win over Nevada for a perfect 8-0 conference record.
The Falcons finished conference play 6-2, good enough to win the Mountain Division. The Aztecs and Falcons had not played during the regular season.
Maxwell Smith had been injured early in the Nevada game the week before and was replaced by Freshman QB Christian Chapman. Smith’s injury turned out to be season-ending, so Chapman made his first collegiate start in the championship game.
The Falcons scored first in the opening quarter; DJ Pumphrey tied it up with a 24-yard pass reception from Chapman 4 seconds into the second. After an Air Force field goal, the Aztecs tied the score on a 22-yarder from Donny Hageman 1:44 left.
Air Force scored first in the third quarter; the Aztecs answered with a 1-yard Dakota Gordon run. The third quarter ended 17-17.
Rashaad Penny capped off a 74-yard scoring drive with a 28-yard run on his only carry of the night. Hageman’s XP made it 24-17 Aztecs. Air Force answered, however, and the game was tied for the fourth time in the game with 11:49 to play. After punts by both teams, the Aztecs took over on their own 25 with 7:50 left in the game.
Runs by Chase Price and passes from Chapman to Mikah Holder (48 yards) and Eric Judge (13 yards) positioned the Aztecs on the Falcon 29. Donny Hageman kicked a 46-yard field goal with 5:10 left in the game to give the Aztecs a 27-24 lead.
The Aztec D held to Falcons to a three-and-out and got the gall back with 3:16 left. Air Force had all their timeouts and used them to keep the Aztecs from running out the clock. Tanner Blain punted to the Air Force 22 with :36 left in the game.
With only 36 seconds and no timeouts, the Falcons had to abandon their ground game and pass the ball. They didn’t do too badly, completing three of four passes to get to the Aztec 49. But they never got closer. An Air Force Hail Mary fell short as time expired. Final score: Aztecs 27, Air Force 24. Christian Chapman was named Offensive MVP. Defensive MVP went to Safety Na’im McGee.
Check out the highlights and post game celebration of the 2015 SDSU Aztecs football Mountain West Champions