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FLASHBACK: Fresno State–the Aztecs Oldest Rivalry Game

By Ken Ables (@ka619sd)

San Diego State and Fresno State will play for the 60th time Saturday night, the most games versus any Aztec opponent. San Jose State is a distant second with 45 games played. The series dates back to 1923 – the third season of Aztec football – a 12-2 Aztec win in Balboa Stadium. The Aztecs lead the series 30-25-4. 

You can listen to our full SDSU vs Fresno State Preview Podcast here!

It’s a rivalry that should have been played every year, and over a period that spanned 1945-1979, they did, playing 35 years in a row (and my Dad, Tom Ables, was at every one of those!), with most of those games as conference mates in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. (CCAA) and Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. (PCAA). When the Aztecs left the PCAA for the WAC, the teams did not meet again until the Bulldogs joined the WAC in 1992. When the Aztecs left for the MW, the two teams only played two non-conference games, in 2002 and 2011.

And that 2011 game rekindled the rivalry with the introduction of a new annual trophy: The Old Oil Can.

In the fine tradition of Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech and Clemson-South Carolina, the 2011 game was played at the end of the season after all of the conference games had been played. There was no conference championship game, so it was the last game before the bowl.

The Bulldogs, led by current Raider QB Derek Carr, started fast and built a 21-0 lead with 9:14 left in the second quarter. After that it was all Aztecs.

Linebacker Miles Burris. (Ernie Anderson)

Touchdowns by Ronnie Hillman (20 yards) and Chad Young (1 yard with :11 left) closed the gap to 21-14 at the half. Ronnie added two more TD runs in the third quarter to give the Aztecs a 28-21 lead going into the fourth.

One of Ronnie Hillman’s 3 Touchdowns. (Ernie Anderson)
Fullback Chad Young Scoring a touchdown. (Ernie Anderson)

Fresno scored early in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 28, where it stayed until Ronnie Hillman scored his fourth rushing touchdown with 1:09 left in the game to lead the Aztecs to a 35-28 victory and possession of The Old Oil Can.

The 2011 San Diego State Football team became the first team from either school to win the inaugural Old Oil Can Trophy. (Ernie Anderson)

Fresno joined the MW in 2012, and with that the teams lost control of their schedules. The MW – always one to let a great opportunity pass by – has never scheduled the Aztec-Bulldog game on the final weekend of the season, and that’s a real shame.

San Diego State and Fresno State have met every year since, except last year when the Bulldogs could not field a healthy team. 

The Old Oil Can has resided in San Diego since 2019 when the Aztecs held the Bulldogs to a single touchdown in a 17-7 win. Chase Jasmin scored two touchdowns and Matt Araiza added a Field Goal. 

Kickoff is at 7:30 in Dignity Health Sports Park. If you only go to one game this year, this is the one you need to attend. If you can’t make it up to Carson, watch it on CBS Sports Network or listen to Ted Leitner and Rich Ohrnberger on XTRA Sports AM 1360.

Click below to get your copy of GO AZTECS!
by Tom Ables. Photography by Ernie Anderson and others.


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