By Ken Ables (@ka619sd)
What are all these numbers? They may seem like an assortment random digits, but they are very pertinent to Saturday’s Mountain West Championship game between San Diego State and Utah State. Here’s what they all mean:
13-2: The Aztecs’ record vs. the Aggies in a series that dates back to 1947, a 24-19 Aztec win. Another way to look at it: Utah State is 2-13 vs. San Diego State.
2-0: San Diego State’s record in Mountain West Championship Games. No other team has multiple wins with no losses. And no other team has won back-to-back championship games.
0-1: Utah State’s record in Mountain West Championship games. They are one of four teams that have played in, yet never won a Mountain West Championship game. The played in the first game and hadn’t been back until this year.
22: As in Win 22, or #Win22. Aztec fans know the team is playing to win their 22nd conference championship. This is the 99th season of Aztec football, and the 95th as a member of a conference. That would make the Aztecs conference champions in nearly one out of every four seasons.
If the past is any indication, odds favor a 12th Aztec win on Saturday. And that would put the Aztecs in uncharted territory. Five Aztec teams have won 11 games, and the 2021 team is the first team to do so in the regular season. Don Coryell’s 1966 and 1969 teams both finished 11-0; Rocky Long’s 2015 and 2016 teams finished 11-3. All four all won #11 in their bowl games.
Utah State Series
Following that first game in Logan, the Aztecs and Utah State played their next four games in San Diego. After an Aztec win in 1948, the teams did not play again until 1967 in the final home game of the first season played in San Diego Stadium. I was at that game and remember some questionable calls at the end that led to a 31-25 Aggie win. That was the lone loss in a 55-1-1 record that spanned 1965 to 1970. The Aztecs are 11-1 vs. the Aggies since, including a 38-7 win in Logan last year. San Diego State and Utah State were never conference mates until the Aggies joined the MW in 2015.
My Dad, Tom Ables, was at that first SDSU-USU game in 1947 and for the 2016 game 69 seasons later (a 40-13 Aztec win that included 400 rushing yards, 223 by DJ Pumphrey). At age 90 he stood on the sidelines in a driving rainstorm for the entire game. Why? Because we stood on the sidelines for road games. Weather was never a factor.
I always think of that game (and the game at Boise in 2014 when it was 5 degrees at kickoff) when people 50 years younger than he was complain about the drive to Carson being too hard or too far, or thinking the games should have been played at a JC or USD. I’m convinced that the same people complaining about Carson would be griping about having to sit on concrete bleachers at Southwestern College.
Mountain West Conference Championships
Saturday will be the second MW Championship game hosted by San Diego State. Air Force was the Mountain Division opponent in the Aztecs’ first MWCCG, played in 2015. It was a back and forth game that was tied 24-24 late in the fourth quarter. Donny Hageman kicked a 46-yard field goal with 5:10 left to give the Aztecs a 27-24 lead.
That game finished much like many games did this year: with defense. After the field goal, the Aztecs held the Falcons to a three-and-out. The Aztecs got the ball back with 3:16, looking to run out the clock. After six plays the Aztecs punted and the Falcons took over at their own 22. The run-dependent Falcons were forced to pass and made it to mid-field. The Aztec D held as time ran out. The 27-24 score held. Won 20.
The Aztecs were back in the conference championship again in 2016, but did not host. For the second time in 15 days, the Aztecs were playing football in Laramie, Wyoming. Led by QB Josh Allen (now with the Buffalo Bills), the Cowboys shot out to a 10-0 lead. After four consecutive Aztec scores, featuring a touchdown by DJ Pumphrey and two by Rashaad Penny, plus a John Baron field goal, the Aztecs built a 24-10 lead through three quarters.
In the fourth, Wyoming scored two touchdowns that sandwiched another Baron field goal. The Cowboys got the ball back with 1:00 left in the game. After three Allen incompletions and a holding call, the Pokes faced fourth and 20 from their own 14. Kyle Kelley sacked Allen for a 5 yard loss. Aztec ball. Victory formation. Final score: 27-24, Aztecs. Won 21.
So what will happen Saturday? I’ll go with tradition: Aztecs 27, Aggies 24.
Kickoff is at noon Saturday at Dignity Health Sports Park. Every Aztec fan who can make it should be in Carson. If you can’t, watch it on Fox or listen to Ted Leitner and Rich Ohrnberger on 1360. And be sure to watch Aztec basketball take on Michigan at 10:00 AM. That game is on CBS and 1360.
Listen to this weeks Championship Game Podcast previewing SDSU vs Utah State with a special guest interview with Aztecs football legend, JR Tolver.