The Mountain West Conference has long been one of the top non-autonomous conferences in college athletics. With programs in the past like Utah, BYU, and TCU lone gone from the fold, the conference leaders in football have since then been narrowed down to 3 schools; San Diego State, Fresno State, and Boise State. This hierarchy was established and set the tone from the very jump. In 2012, one year before there was an official Championship game and one season removed from the aforementioned programs that departed, it was this SDSU, Fresno, Boise trio that split an even share of that years football Championship.
Fast forward to today and the same holds up. Boise State leads the conference with 3 football championships, while San Diego State and Fresno State both own 2 championships a piece. While the Bulldogs and Broncos have a much longer history of playing each other from years together in the WAC, the Broncos hold a stronghold over them, winning 16 times to Fresno’s 7. The Boise team seemingly have an intimidation factor over the Bulldogs.
Such is not the case with our Aztecs. The two teams have split evenly 3 games a piece in their total 6 matchups and SDSU came into last week’s game as one of the only teams to have that win percentage in the conference. Though the Aztecs and Broncos have yet to play each other in a true Mountain West championship game, this 9am Black Friday showdown had all the makings of a championship style grudge fest. With the CBS National TV audience tuning in, the Broncos needed a win and some help to advance into the post season, while SDSU needed simply to win and be in the Championship game.
The game week video below put forth by SDSU Official indicated that this years 10-1 Aztecs team, and only Mountain West ranked school, was ready for the challenge of taking the shine away from Boise State. Warning if you watch the video below, you may succumb to multiple chills and feelings of intensified adrenalin.
Us supporters love this kind of stuff. But cool hype videos aside, it takes more to get ready and play a football game. And when the early morning kickoff took place, the Aztecs were ready but just not to the same level as Boise for most of the first half.
Like any other heavyweight boxing match, the two sides traded punches and felt each other out for the first few attempts. Things were pretty quiet until Boise put up the games first points with a few passing plays from QB and So Cal native Bachmeier. The Broncos put up a TD with this pass over the middle of the Aztecs defense.
Aztecs 0 Broncos 7
The early score midway through the 1st quarter wasn’t ideal. The Aztecs offense had been improving week by week, but this offense still hadn’t proven they were the kind that could catch up from playing behind. It was crucial they respond, and they did when a solid drive led by QB Lucas Johnson took the team down into the red zone. When the drive stalled, Matt Araiza cashed in on 3 points for the Aztecs and the field goal was good to get on the board.
Aztecs 3 Broncos 7
Things started to look bad however, as the Broncos got the ball to their explosive connection of QB Bachmeier to WR Khalil Shakir. The pass found Shakir in the back of the end zone and things were looking effortless for the Boise offense. The two score lead put up so quickly had the Aztecs faithful feeling uneasy. But when the Boise kicker missed the ensuing extra point kick, there was a glimmer of good vibes. In this game every point was precious.
Aztecs 3 Boise 13
The Aztecs offense and Coach Hoke knew this. So when another Aztecs drive was stalled and down to a 4th and long situation, it was puzzling to see the special teams run a fake punt. Having the nation’s top punter has paid incredible dividends for the Aztecs over their 10-1 run this season. But with that fact and the reality that Boise had blocked not one, but two punt attempts in their previous game against New Mexico, it wasn’t a surprise to us here that a fake punt would be in the arsenal of possibilities. The down and distance however was a shock. The fake ran almost perfect except for one Boise defender making a huge tackle that would’ve saved a long gain and the first down yardage. Instead it was a turnover on downs and a chance for Boise to really go up big in the first half.
The defense however did their job well enough to limit the repercussions of the failed attempt. The defensive line began to get enormous pressure on the QB Bachmeier led by unstoppable force of DL Cam Thomas, Keshawn Banks and Jonah Tavai. They forced a Broncos field goal and kept the game within two scores.
Aztecs 3 Broncos 16
To say at this point the home crowd were relieved would be an understatement. The game began to feel as if the Aztecs ship was taking on water quickly and had that last score been a touchdown for Boise, it would’ve been in danger of capsizing, going down and taking the seasons hopes deep into the abyss with it.
And thats when the decision of the game was made. QB Lucas Johnson, who since being inserted back into the starting lineup had truly grown his clutch performances early in the year to full on impressive games start to finish. Enough so that he had solidified himself as the starter moving forward keeping this season at a championship level. But this morning was just not his day. An ailing knee had slowed down Johnson’s effectiveness in both the run and the passing game. Throws that had been accurate the last few games simply were not. And any threat of escaping the pocket with elusiveness just wasn’t going to happen with the large knee brace clearly visible to fans in the stands.
This is when Coach Hoke and OC Hecklinski made the decision they were prepared for, and brought back in QB Jordon Brookshire. Jordon had begun the season as the QB1 to much speculation by all of SDSU fans and supporters. The Laney JC transfer was a great story of determination and begun his senior season off with a solid performance in week 2’s route over U of Arizona. But a late game injury hobbled his momentum and eventually got his opportunity cut short midway through the season.
The two quarterbacks Brookshire and Johnson have been a supportive duo despite the interchangeability in the offense. So when Brookshire came in with just over 3 minutes to go in the first half, he knew exactly what he needed to do and struck early deep into the Boise defense to establish his presence. A 30 yard pass completion with an amazing grab in the air by the teams best receiver Jesse Matthews made the statement.
The CBS play by play crew made mention that OC Hecklinski finally felt confident that his offense could carry a game on their shoulders through the passing game only, it was put to the test. While little yardage could be gained on the ground, Jordon Brookshire immediately came in and attacked with his passes. It always helps when a QB has the time to stand tall and read over his progressions. Notice how Brookshire steps up into the pocket reviews his options and throws a dart to Jess Matthews again, this time in a location where only Matthews had a reach towards. Jesse the ultra talented pass catcher quickly secured the pass turned up field and was gone into the end zone for the Aztecs first touchdown of the game.
The game changed instantly. From down two scores to one, the pass by Brookshire confirmed so much from this Aztecs offense that had taken all year to reach this point. With pass blocking like this, it will be interesting to see if the offense continues to ride this style of play.
Aztecs 10 Broncos 16
With just a minute and a half left in the 2nd quarter, the Aztecs once again came up big forcing a punt out of the Boise offense. An incompletion into blanket coverage started to show some jittery decisions on the Boise quarterbacks part. The Aztecs would have a nice punt return by Jordan Byrd and after a few sharp passes to WR’s Elijah Kothe and Tyrell Shavers, picking apart the Boise zone defense, the Aztecs were in field goal range once again and this time Matt Araiza who previously missed an attempt, was able to hit successfully and pull the Aztecs within 3 points.
A complete turnaround of momentum in just the final 3 minutes of the half and the Aztecs fans were suddenly jolted alive with enthusiasm. The team trotted to the locker room knowing they had seized everything Boise had built early on. The ship was free and upt to them where they would take it next.
Coming out of the halftime the Aztecs would receive the ball first. The carryover of QB Jordon Brookshire’s resurgence continued successfully. This time with his legs in the RPO running game. The drive was moving along to mid field when with a 4th & inches opportunity, once again Coach Hoke & Heck made another big decision. The obvious move this close to a first down is to either run the ball up the middle or allow your big body QB to sneak it in behind a big Offensive lineman. So to see Brookshire back pedal and look for an open target was not what either Aztecs fans or the Boise defense was expecting.
NFL caliber TE Daniel Bellinger played sparingly last week against UNLV. But this week with already a 4th down direct snap run for a successful conversion in the 1st half, #88 was once again called on for his sure hands. Brookshire found a wide open Bellinger streaking down the left sideline and big Dan caught it for a 38 yard gain.
A perfect decision with a perfect play call. Had the pass been thrown completely on time, no doubt Bellinger rumbles in for the go ahead score. But instead the drive continued and the Aztecs passing game kept the chains moving.
With this aerial attack gaining chunk yards, the run game was respectable but not dominant. So when another 4th down opportunity presented itself at the Boise 2 yard line it wasn’t clear if the Aztecs would once again throw the ball or keep it on the ground. Either way, this was again the right decision to risk. With the ball on the 2 yard line so close to a touchdown, SDSU only needed one yard—not the touchdown—to earn a fresh set of downs.
They got that and more when RB Greg Bell took the hand off and ran straight ahead for the go ahead score. For you checking at home, that was now 17 unanswered points by the black & red.
Aztecs 20 Broncos 16
With this score the game had shifted the Aztecs way. But despite a solid first half and a few nice runs by Boise RB George Holani, the Boise offense had no answer for the constant pressure of the Aztecs defense. On the answering opportunity drive, the Broncos threw over the middle and with LB Caden McDonald deflecting the pass upwards, the big time playmaker and Conference player of the week Patrick McMorris was in perfect position to take it away and intercepted Bachmeier for the 2nd time of the game. His return set up SDSU passed mid field and the tidal wave was growing bigger in the Aztecs favor.
The Predator defense of the Aztecs set up the offense for another chance to increase their lead and with QB Jordon Brookshire using his physicality of running the ball, the Boise defenders wanted no part of him. All week long much had been made mentioned of the standout safety and San Diego native, safety JL Skinner. Though Skinner is truly a fine player, the Aztecs offense seemed to target his way specifically much in these type of situations. The big bodied Brookshire took the snap, offered a fake handoff to RB Greg Bell, and ran to the right. Passed the line of scrimmage and with one move towards the inside evading Skinner, Brookshire bulled his way towards the end zone outstretching the ball over the goal line and there was nothing the Boise defense could do.
Aztecs 27 Broncos 16
The route was on when …
Almost every passing play since then was a game of cat & mouse. The Aztecs big cats just toying with the Boise QB’s as the mouse. There was no where to hide for Bachmeier who had repeatedly taken hit after hit all game long. Even when completing passes, the defensive lineman for the Aztecs were getting their big bodies on him with force. Jonah Tavai the bull had lineup up in several different spots around the line of scrimmage and the Boise offensive line could not contain him.
Block him to the left and Bachmeier would run right into his pursuit. None was more ferocious than when Tavai grabbed a helpless QB and wrestled him down tot the ground causing the passer’s helmet to fly off and roll around on the grass. A huge sack with a lot of time in the 4th quarter, but the Boise offense just could never answer answer that.
For fear of his well being and to get a new passer into the game, Coach Avalos inserted QB Jack Sears. The former USC QB turned SDSU transfer, was on track to be the next Aztecs QB, only to then leave the program to end up on the Boise sideline. Sears entered the game and was immediately faced with a Cam Thomas pressure that had the young QB looking bewildered towards the sidelines.
The game was over when …
On 4th down and the direct snap taken by RB Holani was shut down by the Aztecs defense.
The game was eventually over and the Aztecs domination was complete. This image pretty much sums it all up.
Is this Aztecs Football Team the Best In History?
For the first time since 2016, SDSU is back in the Mountain West championship game. Another unbelievable game to cap off an even more unbelievable season. Picked to finish 4th in the West devision behind Nevada, San Jose State, and Fresno State, these Aztecs have done what the local naysayers refused to believe, finish the regular season at 11-1. This Brady Hoke led team has proven game after game after game, that they have what it takes to play at the big time level of college football. And they’ve done it all without a true home field stadium, crowd environment and logistics advantage.
All of this with at most times lackluster play at the quarterback position. All of this with at some times a less than usual dominant running attack. And at the few times where the defense has not been able to be perfect, the team has found and developed ways to win through one of college football’s brightest special teams stars, Punter/Kicker Matt Araiza.
We take our hats off to all the staff, coaches, players and family’s that are a part of this years 99th football team. Sacrificing their home field for next years Aztecs Stadium, was no easy feat. Though they will forever be remembered, their job is not complete. In order to “win 22” and be known forever as the greatest Aztecs team of all -time, this team must find a way to finish strong. In their way is an impressive Utah State team that is capable. But for this game, on this black Friday, we proudly raise our banners high to you Sons of Montezuma 2021. Now lets go hunt some Aggies.