On Saturday September 3, San Diego State University unchained Snapdragon Stadium for all the nation to see. The dream come true sports, entertainment and educational facility for the little college up on the mesa had finally come to fruition. But this was hardly a dream come true in the end.
Southern Californians know all too well the hottest days of the year are in September and likely fall on Labor Day weekend. This special day for Aztecs football and the city of San Diego will surely be one nobody will forget for quite some time.
The main event was set to kickoff against PAC-12 opponent Arizona on nationally televised CBS with the A1 team led by Brad Nessler & crew. But by the time kickoff had arrived temperatures had reached 100 degrees in Mission Valley marking this the hottest game in SDSU football history for a home game.
But football is that game that is intended to play through the elements, usually to the advantage of whoever seizes it as an opportunity. When the crowd had settled into their seats and the flyover had concluded, it felt as though San Diego would be taking that home field advantage.
That would be the only aerial assault that would take off from San Diego on this day.
After a 3 & out opening offensive possession for the Aztecs, the Wildcats drove much of the length of the field to capture the lead 3-0 on a first quarter field goal. Not the ideal beginning to this inaugural game, but it is the first real live action for either side.
After another unsuccessful Aztecs drive, Arizona took full control early when QB Jayden de Laura connected with WR Jacob Cowing for 17 yards on the first touchdown of Snapdragon history. There was a lot of hype for the new look Wildcat offense bringing in many of their transfer portal players on that side of the ball.
Aztecs 0 Wildcats 10
As the Arizona passing game began to heat up on the field, so did the heat begin to beat down on the fans in the stands. After the first few scores let up by an uncharacteristically timid Aztecs defense, the sold-out San Diego State crowd began heading up the stands and seeking shade in any direction possible. Tons of fans could not be seen in the seats, but instead lined all around the concourse from under the shading of the upper deck, to the stairwells and under the famous Piers on the south endzone.
SDSU managed to connect on a brilliant 44 yard field goal by Kicker/Punter Jack Browning. But with poor tackling and very little pass rush on this day, another UofA touchdown score had the lead grow to 17-3.
Things were really looking bleak until a strip fumble recovered by Cedarious Barfield gave San Diego State the ball with excellent momentum.
On a day when the Aztecs defensive pash rush and secondary were outmatched, Cedarious Barfield surely encompassed this conclusion. On the tail-end of some defensive blunders, Barfield was equally active on the upside of recovering turnovers for the Aztecs.
When it comes to offense, equal significance could be placed on SDSU for their transfer portal strategy. SDSU had reached out to the portal to sign QB Braxton Burmeister and just a few short years before that WR Tyrell Shavers.
This connection got the Aztecs on the board to pull within a score when Burmeister found Shavers on a 4th down and’ 3 pass play towards the corner of the endzone. In the words of the CBS crew, “You always go to that 6′ foot 6″ vs 5’11” matchup.”
Aztecs 10 Wildcats 17
Showing some promise and adding to a huge momentum shift was when Aztecs CB Noah Tumblin read de Laura’s eyes and picked off his pass with under 4 minutes to go in the first half. The crowd began to come alive as the Aztecs were seemingly beginning to look comfortable and back to their old selves.
The Turning Point
A pass to big TE Mark Redman gained nice positive yards. What followed was to be the turning point play in the game. A touchdown run around the right edge by super speedster Jordan Byrd sent the crowd into a frenzy in the heat. The Aztecs offense began to resemble what we’ve come to see under OC Jeff Hecklinski—Safe protected passes and running the ball with the occasional big breakaway.
And this was the breakaway run the team needed to tie it up. But it wasn’t to be. An accurate Burmeister pass was deflected off Brionne Penny’s hands and into the air where a Wildcat defender quickly snatched it and put a cork on that scoring opportunity.
Tough to label a turning point in the game coming from the first half, but in what would have been a 17-17 tie, now led to the Arizona offense feeling renewed and marching down for yet another score going into the half. Effectively it was a 14 point swing and the Wildcats having the opening possession of the 2nd half on the way.
Aztecs 10 Wildcats 24
The 2nd half started off just how the 1st half ended. Another quick drive that lasted less than 3 minutes was capped off by a de Laura to Cowing touchdown. This time Cowing’s third of the game.
Aztecs 10 Wildcats 31
All was beginning to look lost until the SDSU defense bucked up and began to push the Arizona defense backwards after yet another great special teams play by Jack Browning. Having already had one earlier punt blocked, Browning was able to land his punt attempt in the 3rd quarter down to the 2 yard line.
From there the Aztecs forced UofA to their own punt attempt backed into their own endzone as far as possible. Last season the Aztecs were able to block a Wildcat punt and Tyrell Shavers scooped and scored on the play. This time in the new Snapdragon it was Arizona who blocked themselves.
Aztecs 17 Wildcats 31
There was a glimmer of hope for SDSU after the phantom punt block for a TD. The defense forced a three and out and after a wicked stiff arm by Jordan Byrd during his nice return, the offense looked ready to pull within a score. By this point, Braxton Burmeister had exited the game as what appears to be a banged up shoulder. Enter in Will Haskell Jr. to operate the offense.
By this point, a new game was within reach and the Aztecs appeared to be locked in on running ball and marching down the half field they had to go. But the drive stalled and rather than going for it, the Aztecs settled on another Jack Browning field goal to make it an 11 point game.
Aztecs 20 Wildcats 31
That would be the closest SDSU could get for the rest of the game. Arizona then began to punish the defense with a ground attack led by SEC transfer DJ Williams. The punishing RB broke free on many tackles all game long and ran downhill to a touchdown early in the 4th quarter.
Aztecs 20 Wildcats 38
The Aztecs defense on this day was perhaps the most surprising on all accounts. Aztec Nation has been used to underwhelming offensive play for quite some time now. But it’s the defense that has always stayed as the stronghold for the program. Such was not the case today.
On a day when the sun was in full shine, there were little bright spots to take not of with this group on opening day. Arizona seemed ready and fully capable to take advantage of any mismatch—which was every time Cowlings was lined up against someone in a black jersey. Wether it was a CB, LB or Safety, de Laura carved up the defense and Cowlings ran past them.
One could say, there wasn’t enough defensive front 6 pressure on the QB—and it would be accurate. For a defense predicated on blizting and getting pressure on the QB to make mistakes, Arizona was always a step ahead of picking up defender coming in to do. Giving de Laura all the time in the world to make passes is not something a team can do if they want to beat the Wildcats.
On the offensive side, SDSU had a lot of confidence coming into this game with the newly signed Braxton Burmeister. The senior QB has D1 experience at the P5 level in Virginia Tech & Oregon. His options at WR with the spectacular Jesse Matthews and strong Tyrell Shavers give him two outstanding targets. A stable full of more than capable RBs in Chance Bell, Jordan Byrd, Cam Davis, Jaylen Armstead and Keana Christon is a group anyone would want in the country.
The offensive line was the biggest question mark with its youth and inexperience. As we mentioned in last week’s preview article, the keys to beating Arizona would be to establish the line of scrimmage and run the ball.
For a an offensive line—especially a young line—to get their confidence up and have them playing together as a team early, running the ball and being dedicated to it seems to be the most advantageous way of attack. At least to start a game that is.
The Aztecs of 2022 have their work cut out for them indeed. Next Saturday Idaho State should provide relief in strength of opponent and the weather down in the Snapdragon. It shouldn’t be as agonizing for all who make it in attendance—including the players.
Stay tuned this week as we bring you yet another Sons of Montezuma Podcast episode to get our reactions of this brutal opening loss to Arizona and also to take a closer look at the Idaho State Bengals and be sure to stop by the Sons of Montezuma tailgate in the Yellow lot if you will be at the game.
We say a big thank you to all who came out to celebrate such a big occasion with us this past week. Your efforts are not in vain. We may not always win the game but we always win the tailgate!