Saturday evening the now #21 ranked SDSU Aztecs defeated the Air Force Falcons 20-14 in Colorado Springs. The win was a crucial victory as SDSU maintains their undefeated status and stays atop the Western division of the Mountain West Conference. The victory improved the Aztecs to 7-0 and proved to be a landmark the SDSU football program has not met since head coach Claude Gilbert led the red & black 46 years ago in the 1975 season.
The Aztecs also pushed their winning streak over the Academy to a 9th straight win. To put that winning streak in its proper perspective, the Aztecs now have 18 total victories over the Air Force football program. However, the Falcons still lead the head to head matchup historically with 19 victories.
Despite the almost decade of domination by the Aztecs, this years matchup found SDSU the +3 point underdog to the Falcons. Air Force who came in flying high, pushed their record to 6-1 and sat just outside the top-25 polls, after soundly defeating the Boise State Broncos last weekend.
While the Falcons boasted the #1 rushing attack in the nation, the Aztecs also touted a top rushing offense of their own. The difference being that SDSU need not to operate within an option style offense to earn that recognition. Nevertheless, the two teams were honored this past week with both offensive lines being named to the Joe Moore Midseason Award Watch List, given to the nation’s most outstanding offensive unit.
If you stay tuned to our Sons of Montezuma Film Room page or subscribe to our YouTube channel, you would see how our Coach C details ways the Aztecs would need to beat Air Force. You can click on the screen to the right to watch our full analysis video.
One of the main ways to take down the Falcons on their home turf, was to not only capitalize on each offensive drive, but to try and win the turnover battle. This would increase the Aztecs number of possessions against the ball controlling, clock eating style that the Air Force triple option aims to execute.
To start the game the Aztecs defense did just that. SDSU won the opening coin toss but deferred to kick off to the Air Force. After a fumble by QB Haaziq Daniels was recovered by the offense, it was the Aztecs defense that took advantage of his poor 1st quarter performance and immediately intercepted a rare passing attempt.
Cornerback #12 Dallas Branch of the Aztecs back peddled away from his coverage responsibility and into the passing lane. The result was him making one of the best one handed interceptions you will see this year in all of football at any level. The play which was so electric it granted Branch, the junior CB out of Salesian High in Los Angeles, CA, the number 9 spot in ESPN’s Sportscenter’s famed Top10 countdown of best plays of the night.
Analysts would say that Air Force QB Haaziq Daniels was going to be a factor in the Falcons performance if they were to beat the undefeated Aztecs. Even in our own podcast episode previewing this contest, we admittedly gave Daniels a ton of respect in his athleticism and ability to hand the Aztecs defense problems.
You can listen to our complete SDSU vs Air Force preview podcast below.
The Aztecs defense has been dominant all season long. However this turnover caused by the defense could only generate 3 points from the offense after the run game stalled and brought out a chip shot 22 yard Matt Araiza field goal to put SDSU up 3 – 0.
Winning the turnover battle aside, the X factor for the Aztecs success this season has been on special teams. Whether scoring points themselves by blocking punts—nearly every game has had a play or two that has produced or set the stage for impact plays. The high altitude in Colorado was going to play a factor in this game for the Aztecs, but for the Aztecs first punt attempt it actually didnt. Just a week after punter Matt Araiza boomed an 85 yard punt against San Jose State, Araiza was back at it again.
With the Aztecs backed up within their own endzone, they needed a big one from Araiza and he did not disappoint. An 81 yard “Piss Missile” as Pat McAfee referred to it as, immediately flipped the field for the red & black.
After a few punts from both sides the Aztecs defense once again stepped up and stopped a 4th down attempt by the Falcons. With excellent field position the Aztecs through their running game powered down into the end zone and scored the game’s first touchdown behind RB #26 Kaegun Williams.
Unaware to most Aztecs fans leading up to the game was that starting running back and national standout #22 Greg Bell was not available for the first half of this game. Additionally, Outland Trophy Award watch list starting offensive lineman Zach Thomas was not available for the entire game. This Aztecs offense was going to have to find a way to score points and protect the quarterback against this stout Air Force team without two of its best super senior players.
The stable of running backs were each going to get plenty of carries to share the load and keep the Falcons defense on their heels. With Chance Bell and Jordan Byrd receiving first half carries, it was Kaegun Williams who got the lone touchdwon of the day for the running backs, when he spun his way in for the 1 yard score.
On the ensuing Air Force position, the Aztecs defense showed again how if you can match the discipline of Air Force, but have the better athletes, you will most likely come out with the victory. For the second straight week, super senior Trenton Thompson came up with another big turnover for the defense when he forced a fumble with limited time left in the first half.
On a short swing pass by Haaziq Daniels, the Air Force player caught it and looked to pick up some steam running along the sidelines. But Thompson focused in and when the two were running straight towards each other for undoubtedly a big collision, it was Thompson who got the better of the Falcon receiver. Trenton’s lowering his shoulder and refusing to stop before he met impact was arguably the play of the game giving the Aztecs another scoring opportunity to make it a two possession game.
Unfortunately it didn’t lead to a touchdown for the Aztecs, but it did end in a 51 yard field goal by Matt Araiza which got the job done and an impressive way to end the half.
Aztecs – 13 Air Force – 0
The opening drive for the Aztecs in the 2nd half went as about as smooth as ever. Simple pass completions by Lucas Johnson to Jessie Matthews and Jordon Byrd moved the ball effortlessly and after Greg Bell made a short game in his first appearance, it was Chance Bell who dashed passed the Falcon defenders for 32 yards down to the 3. And on the very next play punched it in for the second Aztecs touchdown and a 20-0 commanding lead.
While it would be great to say that the Aztecs took that 20-0 lead and ran it up on the Falcons to show an even more dominant victory…that just wasn’t the case. The Falcons quarterback Haaziq Daniels ended up getting injured and having to leave the game. Backup QB Warren Bryan stepped in and immediately was able to move the chains both with his legs and his arm. In the 4th quarter Bryan put the Falcons on the board for the first time when he threw for a TD pass. And with 3:59 left in the ballgame he lead the team down to another score to cut the Aztecs lead down to 6.
But this day was all about the Aztecs defense who stonewalled Air Force in the final possession after they were called for a devastating personal foul call. Another punt and SDSU was able to sit on the ball and kill the clock.
Aztecs – 20 Air Force – 14
The Aztecs on the day held Air Force to their 2nd to last rushing total all season of 192 yards. The only other lowest total was their victory against Navy, where they also play a ball control, low possession style of option offense.The Aztecs dominated the turnover battle 2-0 but also managed to stop Air Force on a few 4th down turnovers on downs.
It was an impressive win for the Aztecs who had to use every running back to power through and Lucas Johnson was able to protect the ball, run the offense just enough success to ensure the victory. The real test lays ahead with teams that have powerful passing offenses that the Aztecs have yet to play. Until then, we celebrate a new map, and a team that is now 7-0 for the first time in 46 years.