Tuesday evening San Diego State football achieved a program milestone while doing what they’ve been perfect at all season long: winning on the road.
In this 2021 Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl the San Diego State Aztecs were victorious over the UT San Antonio Roadrunners 38-24 earning them their 12th win on the season and highest mark in program history. Despite the various undefeated 11-0 results under the Aztecs legendary coach Don Coryell, SDSU had never earned the elusive 12 win mark. In just his second season returning as head coach, Brady Hoke has led this team to make their mark in the SDSU history books.
In his second head coaching opportunity in San Diego, Coach Hoke has had to instruct this team through not only a global pandemic but also having to perform every single game without a true home to call their own—SDSU having played all of their home games over two hours away in Carson, CA. This 2021 football team seemed to embrace that reality all season long, finishing all of their actual road games as the opponent a perfect 5-0 and 6-0 when adding in the neutral site of the Frisco Bowl.
UTSA had a lot on the line coming into this bowl week as well. The matchup was being billed as the top G5 teams to play each other in a bowl game and a matchup featuring two of the best records only surpassed by the four teams in the CFB Playoffs. UTSA with a win, would earn their first ever bowl victory in their short 11 year existence. However with health issue concerns ruling out some UTSA players as well as significant football members opting out of the game, reserving their health towards potential NFL draft possibilities.
But you wouldn’t guess that the Roadrunners were shorthanded by the way they opened up this game. Just seven plays is all it took for the dynamic UTSA offense to jump ahead 7-0 when QB Frank Harris found his receiver in the corner of the endzone.
AZTECS 0 – ROADRUNNERS 7
Coming in to the game we were very complimentary of the UTSA offense and the potency of their offense. You can listen to the Sons of Montezuma Podcast to listen to our preview of the Aztecs vs Roadrunners game.
After an Aztecs punt it appeared as if UTSA was on their way to another scoring drive but SDSU held their own and stopped them on a 4th down pass attempt. Thats when the Aztecs got in the game. QB Lucas Johnson received the start after being unable to play in the Mountain West Championship game with a sore knee. The senior out of Mt. Carmel was making his last start as an Aztecs QB and in his final collegiate football game. Johnson’s first touchdown pass to Jesse Matthews was the sign of how SDSU’s night would go. Aided by a brilliant BJ Busbee block Jesse made the catch and ran around the block to dive over the goal line, outstretching the ball to hit the pylon.
AZTECS 7 – ROADRUNNERS 7
On the next UTSA possession, they attacked again with balance. The biggest shocker to this point was the ability of UTSA to gain ground by running against SDSU, one of the stingiest run defenses in the nation. Even without Conference USA’s OPOTY Sincere McCormick available for the game, UTSA was able to run thus far to earn first downs with consistency. It was through the air however, that got the best of the Aztecs defense. On multiple plays Aztecs defenders jumped off sides allowing UTSA receivers to get 50/50 opportunities with “free play” passes knowing the penalty would negate any potential turnover. Pass interference against SDSU set up UTSA with goal line downs and the go ahead touchdown.
AZTECS 7 – ROADRUNNERS 14
After trading punts, the Aztecs in the 2nd quarter began to move the ball on the arm of Johnson to Matthews. After an offensive penalty SDSU found themselves in a 1st and 20 position only to have Johnson connect with Matthew for 20 yards and into the red zone. After a few incompletions a big 3rd down and goal had Lucas Johnson zig zagging and trying to escape out of the pocket. Fushed to his left, the right handed QB ran just up to the line of scrimmage before letting the ball fly and finding a wide open Jessie Matthews for his 2nd TD on the game. Tie game.
AZTECS 14 – ROADRUNNERS 14
After the tying Aztecs score to even it out at 14, one could see that this game truly was wanted by both sides. And Both UTSA and SDSU each took calculated risks in the 2nd quarters—both failing on 4th down attempts. On 4th and 1, Aztecs Senior LB Andrew Aleki met a UTSA RB square in the hole and with the aid of DL Jonah Tavai dropping him short of the 1st down.
The SDSU offense after moving the ball very well again with spectacular pass and catches from Johnson to Matthews flipping them into UTSA territory, came up short when Johnson was unable to connect on two passes again to Matthews on 3rd and 4th downs. The Aztecs defense on the flip side, held tough forcing a UTSA punt and the Aztecs had a chance to take the lead before halftime but started with the ball deep within their own 10 yard line.
In this fast paced two minute offense is where Lucas Johnson really needed to deliver and he did that exactly. Picking the UTSA secondary apart after some outstanding pocket presence, allowed Lucas to mix up his passes to all receivers was a thing of beauty. Elijah Kothe, Matthews, Busbee all contributing catching passes as the time dwindled down. BJ Busbee was wide open down the middle of the field and Johnson found him. Busbee took the catch and spearheaded down to the 3 yard line, however an unsportsman like penalty call set the Aztecs back to the 15 yard line. With only mere seconds left on the clock two incomplete passes ended any touchdown chances. Matt Araiza then came in and proceeded to be nails on the field goals this day and the Aztecs ended the first half on a high note and with the lead.
AZTECS 17 – ROADRUNNERS 14
The third quarter carried over the offensive energy for the Aztecs. Kaegun Williams, the Texas native, took the 2nd half kickoff all the way to midfield giving SDSU the short field to work with. Then it was the boys from San Diego time. Lucas Johnson showing a much stronger knee, revealing some escapability getting out of the pocket for another 13 yards. Then three straight Greg Bull rushes showing his toughness earned another two first downs. The running success of Bell in this game was an element that opened up the passing game even more. So when Johnson found Matthews for 19 yards down at the 1 yard line it was Bell who punched it in right after for the touchdown putting the boys from San Diego up by two scores.
AZTECS 24 – ROADRUNNERS 14
UTSA was badly in need of a score. And they got one, driving down to the 24 yard line, but settled for a field goal.
AZTECS 24 – ROADRUNNERS 17
Up next for each team were a pair of mistakes. For SDSU, Johnson missed a wide open Tyrell Shavers on a slant route. The pass ran just behind his reach otherwise a clear open field ahead and a for sure touchdown. For UTSA Frank Harris looking to continue attacking through the air got caught making a bad pass. The Aztecs’ standout freshman, North Richland Hills in Texas native, and eventual defensive MVP of the game, CJ Baskerville delivered the games first turnover with a huge interception.
The momentum of a turnover gave Lucas renewed opportunity for his career passing night. The SEC transfer Tyrell Shavers would get a second chance at a TD. Johnson threw an absolute dime to Tyrell and he made the grab in the back of the endzone for another Aztecs two score lead going into the 4th quarter.
AZTECS 31 – ROADRUNNERS 17
Or so we thought. As mentioned before, this UTSA offense came into this game averaging nearly 38 points a game. They kept themselves in the game hanging around as it took just under 3 minutes to score a touchdown when on the last play of the 3rd quarter Harris found WR Zakhari Franklin for the score.
AZTECS 31 – ROADRUNNERS 24
Entering the 4th quarter the Aztecs knew they had to keep scoring somehow to keep the distance away from the UTSA offense. The game largely attended by the in state UTSA fans kept the energy and pressure on the Aztecs offense which hasn’t been known to be so explosive or consistent. But the healthy Johnson showed the growth of his skills during this season under OC Jeff Hecklinski’s tutelage. Managing the offense on this drive and getting back up after a roughing the passer penalty challenged the toughness of the San Diego native QB. All week long speculation of just who would start this Frisco Bowl game for the Aztecs at the QB position leaned away from Lucas Johnson. Some thought it would be wise to play the freshman Haskell, some thought maybe each QB should receive playing time as a reward and experience. But Coach Hoke & Hecklinski trusted Johnson to let loose and do as he’s done all season, and rise to the occasion.
In the games most meaningful drive, the Aztecs and Johnson ate up over 5 minutes on the 4th quarter game clock. Aided by two unsportsmanlike penalty’s by UTSA, the tough running of Greg and Chance Bell kept the chains moving. When in the red zone Chance Bell powered down to the 2 yard line. While everyone figured he would get the ball again and punch it in for the score, Johnson executed the RPO game to perfection, faked the hand off and stretched his way around the line and down passed the goal line for the score. The all important touchdown putting the Aztecs up and seemingly out of reach for a comeback.
AZTECS 38 – ROADRUNNERS 24
The rushing game was whole once again. Lead by an offensive line that had gone through some change since the championship game loss. Several members had decided to transfer out and the lack of tight ends in that championship game really detailed how important that group has been to the success of the ground game. Daniel Bellinger being the steady rock as that big pass catcher and extra blocker surely helped.
The next Roadrunner possession ended when on 3rd down the Bowling ball with butcher knives, rushed out on the edge and sacked Frank Harris forcing a punt. The Aztecs would hold onto the ball for the next 7 minutes to close out the game. It was the way we’ve come to see Aztecs football finish off games so often in the last decade. And this drive sealed the latest Bowl Trophy to be placed in the Fowler Athletics center on Montezuma Mesa.
AZTECS 38 – ROADRUNNERS 24
For Coach Brady Hoke, it’s his second bowl victory as head coach of SDSU. For SDSU as a program, it’s two bowl victories in a row. For the three outstanding performances from this Aztecs offense, the honors go to the San Diego boys. Lucas Johnson put a punctuation on his collegiate career finishing 24/36 passing for 333 yards with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. It was a quarterback performance not seen in quite some time. Lucas was calm and cool. His accuracy for the large part of the game was right on point. His decision making was steady and confident. It was a fitting way to end his story going from Mt. Carmel, to Georgia Tech and back home to SDSU.
For RB Greg Bell, (Bonita Vista) his 26 carries 101 yards, 1 touchdown was also the ending of his collegiate football journey. A journey we documented in our pre season Sons of Montezuma Podcast special. Greg had the desire to be an Aztec from the start. Circumstance took him to Arizona Western JC, to Nebraska, and then back home to SDSU. Greg’s journey is a long one with twists and turns, but for him to be a part of the Aztecs team with the most wins in program history is a testament of just how special things can be for the local stars of this San Diego community.
For Jesse Matthews (SD Christian High) another unbelievable performance for the junior wideout at 11 receptions, 175 yards and two touchdowns earned him the Offensive MVP award for the bowl game. Showing himself to truly be not only a playmaker for this Aztecs program, but also a leader capable of elevating the teams overall performance by his own play and competitive attitude in the games. The fight that Jesse brings to each game is the only thing that outpaces his supreme technical skills. A quality that cannot be measured next to a 40 yard dash, or how many stars are placed next to a high schoolers scouting profile. Matthews performance this year stands out among this all time SDSU football team, and opening up the new Snapdragon stadium next season is on set up to catapult his likeness in the Aztecs football traditions for years to come.
For us at Sons of Montezuma, this season was unlike any other. Our first true season of all out coverage through our news articles, preview & postgame Podcasts, coaching analysis videos, and custom Montezuma merchandise. We’ve made all the home games in Carson this season and even a few road trips. But one thing that was missing from our reach of building up our Aztecs football culture, was the watch party that we’d come to love putting together. This Frisco Bowl game gave us the opportunity to host an end of the season celebration and we are whole heartedly thankful for all that were in attendance that night at McGregors Ale House. The long time friend of Aztecs football, McGregors has been the site of many of our gatherings and podcast environments throught the years. So we end this 2021 season there with friends and supporters, singing the fight song until next season. Where just down the road we will all be together again, to raise our banners high for the red & black hail to our time, San Diego Aztecs fight!