By Ken Ables
San Diego State and UCLA meet this Saturday for the 24th time and first game since the 2019 season. Aztec fans remember what happened four years ago: a 23-14 win in a sun-baked, mostly shadeless Rose Bowl. (I am convinced that no one complains about the weather when their team wins.)
Aztecs-Bruins is a series that dates back 100 seasons. The two Southern California teams met seven times between 1922 and 1934, took a 50-year hiatus and resumed in 1984.
There were some close games, and some not-so-close games in the first 22 meetings, but the Aztecs never ended up the winner until that impressive performance in 2019. I was at that game, of course, just a 2-hour jaunt up the freeway.
Looking back at the start of that 2019 season I see some similarities to this year.
In 2019 as well as 2023, the game prior to UCLA was at home versus an FCS team. While the game with Idaho State last week was much closer than it should have ever been, the 2019 opener vs. Weber State was even closer: a 6-0 Aztec win. Two Matt Araiza field goals was all the scoring the Aztecs could muster.
So the Aztecs headed to Pasadena having not scored a touchdown in eight consecutive quarters, going back to the last game of 2018. If they couldn’t score a TD against a MAC or Big Sky opponent, how would they ever score one against a PAC-12 team?
It only took 10:10 as RB Chase Jasmin took a Ryan Agnew handoff to the right pylon for a 2 yard TD to tie the score at 7-7 in the first quarter. Matt Araiza kicked a 43 yard field goal with 50 seconds left in the first to give the Aztecs a lead they never relinquished.
WR Kobe Smith bulled through several Bruin defenders on a 34-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Agnew 2:10 into the third quarter. Matt Araiza added two more field goals to offset one more Bruin TD. The Aztec D stopped the Bruins on a late fourth-and-one to seal the victory.
21-1-1. The Sons of Montezuma were finally in the win column!
On that day the Aztecs out-gained the Bruins by more than 100 yards: 373 to 261. QB Ryan Agnew was 23-31 for 293 yards and Kobe Smith caught 7 passes for 131 yards.
This years Captains DB Cedarius Barfield and DL Garret Fountain saw action that game as freshmen; and a total of 6 members of this 2023 team were on that 2019 roster.
My father, Tom Ables, and I had been to every UCLA game between 1984 and 2009 (Brady Hoke’s first game as Aztec coach). I really wish Dad had been with us for the 2019 game at the Rose Bowl to witness the 23-14 Aztec victory over the Bruins.
But I had some great Aztec company to witness the game with me that day. I went up to Pasadena that day with my friend Bob. Bob’s brother Scott, is former Aztec AD Fred Miller’s son-in-law (small world!). On the way back from Pasadena, Scott sent us a text that said “Tom and Fred are looking down and smiling right now.” Yes they were. Very big smiles.
If the Aztecs play tough D and make some big plays on offense, then we’ll all be smiling Saturday. Very big smiles.