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The Aztecs Finished Their First D1 Season Perfect at 11-0

By Ken Ables (@ka619sd)

No Aztec fan is happy with Saturday’s results. The team worked too hard to have the regular season end that way. But that final result should not detract from the fact that the Aztecs are 11-2, headed to their 11th bowl in the past 12 seasons and have the program’s first ever national award recipient: Ray Guy Award winning punter – and first team All American – Matt Araiza.

Four other Aztec teams have won 11 games, but all of them won #11 in their bowl. The 2021 squad is the first Aztec team to win 11 in the regular season. 1969 was the Aztecs’ first season in D1, and it was a memorable one.

What a start!

Led by Head Coach Don Coryell and QB Dennis Shaw, the Aztecs finished their first regular season in D1 a perfect 10-0 and champion of the newly formed PCAA (12th conference championship). Their reward: a date in the Pasadena Bowl with Boston University.

Dennis Shaw and Aztecs offense – Photo by Ernie Anderson

The Terriers scored first and led 7-0 at the end of the first quarter. But after that it was all Aztecs. 

WR John Featherstone, filling in for injured Tom Reynolds, caught two touchdown passes: 34 yards from Shaw, and 57 yards from Brian Sipe. The Aztecs also scored on two rushing touchdowns, including one by Sipe. Final: Aztecs 28, Terriers 7. Featherstone was named Player of the game. Attendance: 41,276 – overwhelmingly Aztec fans, including me.

John Featherstone – Photo by Ernie Anderson
Punt Block by Lon Woodard – Photo by Ernie Anderson

With the Pasadena Bowl victory, the 1969 Aztecs finished the season 11-0 for the second time in four seasons. The 11 wins were part of the 55-1-1 record that stretched from 1965 to 1970.

The game featured two players who would excel the next season in the NFL. Aztec QB Dennis Shaw was named 1970 Offensive Rookie of the Year with the Buffalo Bills; Boston U. DB Bruce Taylor was the Defensive Rookie of the year with the 49ers.

It was a great Aztec team that included four All Americans, 11 All-PCAA that year, 12 NFL draft picks, NCAA record holders and leasers, as well as future members of the Aztec and College Football Halls of Fame, an NFL MVP and a famous Hollywood boxer. Who were these great Aztecs?

All Americans (4) – Henry Allison, 1st team (1970), Tim Delaney 3rd, HM (1970-71), Brian Sipe HM (1970-71), Leon Van Gorkum HM (1970)

Tim Delaney – Photo by Ernie Anderson

1969 All-PCAA (11) – Tim Burnett DL, Tim Delaney TE, Lee Felice OT, Billie Hayes DB, Bill Pierson C, Tom Reynolds WR, Dennis Shaw QB, Tom Shellabarger OT, Bill Van Leeuwen DL, Carl Weathers LB, Lon Woodard DL.

Tim Burnett – Photo by Ernie Anderson

Drafted by NFL (12) – Dennis Shaw QB (Bills), Billie Hayes DB (Bengals), Lon Woodard DE (Saints), Bill Pierson C (Jets), Ken Burrow WR (Falcons), Henry Allison G (Eagles), Tom Shellabarger T (Eagles), Tom Hayes DB (Falcons), Leon Van Gorkum DE (Chargers), Lindsey James RB (Falcons), Tom Reynolds WR (Patriots), Brian Sipe QB (Browns).

Billie Hayes – Photo by Ernie Anderson

Aztec Hall of Fame (7) – Don Coryell, Dennis Shaw, Brian Sipe, Tim Delaney, Tom Reynolds, Henry Allison, Claude Gilbert.

NFL Honors – Offensive Rookie of the Year: Dennis Shaw, Bills (1970); MVP: Brian Sipe QB, Browns (1980).

College Football Hall of Fame – Don Coryell, Head Coach

And who was that Hollywood boxer? None other than Aztec LB Carl Weathers who later gained fame as Apollo Creed in the Rocky movies.

Air Coryell at its finest

Under Don Coryell’s sophisticated passing offense, the Aztecs set several NCAA records that season, including 6 TD catches in a game by Tim Delaney, 7 TD passes in a half by Dennis Shaw and 10 team TD passes (all vs. New Mexico State). Tom Reynolds set the NCAA record with 18 TD receptions. The 1969 Aztecs were national leaders in several categories:

  • Team total offense, avg. per game: 532.2 yards
  • Team passing offense, avg. per game: 374.2 yards
  • Team scoring offense, avg. per game: 46.4 points
  • Total offense: Dennis Shaw, 3,197 yards
  • Passing efficiency: Dennis Shaw, 162.2 points

Two members of the 1969 team were national leaders in 1971. QB Brian Sipe completed 17.8 passes per game and WR Tom Reynolds led receivers with 1,070 yards.

The Aztecs continued their winning streak through the first nine games of the 1970 season. I can’t think of another team that started out in Division 1 with a 20-0 record. With a win in the Frisco Bowl, the 2021 Aztecs will become the first team in program history to win 12 games in one season.

GO AZTECS!

Listen to the latest Son of Montezuma Podcast today!

One More Game to #Win22

By Ken Ables (@ka619sd)

13-2

2-0

0-1

22

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.

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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.

Tom Ables at Utah State 2016

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.

2016 DJ Pumphrey vs Utah State (Ernie Anderson)
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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.

2015 Donny Hageman Field Goal vs Air Force (Ernie Anderson)

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.

2015 MW Champs (Ernie Anderson)

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.

Kyle Kelley Sack vs Wyoming (Ernie Anderson)

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.

2016 MW Champs (Ernie Anderson)

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.

Huge Holiday Week preps SDSU Programs for Spotlight Saturday

SDSU’s massive three-game Thanksgiving and Black Friday slate was just the start of the Aztec’s huge lineup of matchups. Now that the Georgetown, Boise State, and USC games are in the past, the football and basketball teams must use those to build on their success and learn from their failures for an even larger set of appearances in the national spotlight.

SDSU basketball travels to Ann Arbor to face the #20 Michigan Wolverines, marking the first meeting between the programs. That matchup will be broadcast nationally on CBS at 10 am. Only two hours later at 12 pm, the Aztec football team will be playing on FOX when they host Utah State for the Mountain West Championship.

These are extremely attractive matchups and are guaranteed to pull well over a million viewers each. With both games being broadcast nationally on the same day, Aztec victories can earn the athletic department a lot of respect in the eyes of a national audience.

SDSU football has a chance to play in three straight nationally televised games: Boise St. 11/26 CBS, Utah St. 12/4 FOX, and possibly in the LA Bowl 12/18 ABC.

To start off the school’s massive three-game stretch, basketball opened play in the Wooden Legacy holiday basketball tournament on Thanksgiving night. Brian Dutcher and staff led the squad into battle with Georgetown and their NBA-legend / Monstar head coach, Patrick Ewing.

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The Tecs were tested early and it was a great game through three quarters. However, Keshad Johnson gave new life to the team with a windmill dunk that should have made Sports Center Top-10. The thunderous slam totally altered the game.

After that, they convincingly pulled away from the Hoyas, allowing just 3 points in the final 9.5 minutes. Shout out to my friend Kate, who is earning a Master’s at Georgetown Law in Washington D.C. She found it to be a criminal offense to bet against the Aztecs. SDSU locked up Georgetown 73-56 for their sixth straight win over a Big East opponent.

The main event of the weekend took place on Black Friday when SDSU faced Boise State in a win-or-go-home game, in which an Aztec victory would mean a birth in the Mountain West Championship game. In the early hours of the morning, Aztec fans weren’t shopping. Instead, they were tailgating in the Dignity Health Sports Park parking lot with Irish Coffee and breakfast burritos.

A 9 am kickoff two hours away from campus was controversial, but the Aztec faithful who came, and the million(s) watching at home, were treated with quite a show. The Broncos were up 16-3 early. It was easy to count the Aztecs out since their offense that runs the ball and controls the clock isn’t designed to come from behind.

However, after a change at the quarterback position, Jordan Brookshire led the team to a 27-16 victory. It was an impressive offensive display and the defense did its thing once more, not allowing any second-half points.

While SDSU won the first 2 of 3 games in 24 hours, the fun ended when Aztec MBB faced #24 ranked USC in the Wooden Legacy championship game. It did not go their way to say the least. Shots would not fall in a way that was very similar to the Syracuse game in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year.

The first Aztec 3-pointer was made with fifteen minutes to go in the second half. The team’s leading scorer this season, Matt Bradley, had zero points until there was one minute remaining in the game. It was ugly to watch and the team must hit the practice courts hard.

They expect to be a tournament team again but desperately need to iron out their offensive play. The Trojans played sloppy too but were able to play solid defense and out-rebound SDSU, which led to many second-chance points and a 58-43 victory over the Aztecs.

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That was SDSU’s first loss to a ranked opponent since #1 Duke defeated them in 2018 and first loss to a California school when Fresno downed them later that same season. As much as we despise losing to a Pac-12 school in Southern California, there are bigger fish to fry next week.

To start off Saturday, December 4th, we get treated to an unusual game that Brian Dutcher was able to schedule with his former team, Michigan. At Michigan, Brian Dutcher was Assistant to his predecessor Steve Fisher, who took the reigns of the 1989 Wolverines in the NCAA tournament and eventually won the national title.

Dutcher was a crucial piece to Michigan’s Fab Five teams and their additional two Final Four victories and NCAA championship appearances in 1992 and 1993, which were eventually vacated for members of the team violating NCAA rules.

Of course, those events led to the firing of Steve Fisher at UM and the eventual turnaround of SDSU basketball when Fisher accepted the role of head coach on the Mesa. He asked Dutcher to come with him to San Diego and the rest was history. Dutcher still maintains a good relationship with members of that legendary team, one of which is current Michigan head coach, Juwan Howard.

The Wolverines were ranked as high as #4 this season but after two losses to Seton Hall and Arizona, they’ve dropped down to #20. Before their game with the Aztecs, the Wolverines travel to North Carolina to face the blue-blood Tarheels. Regardless of that outcome, SDSU gets a chance to take down a ranked team Saturday on big boy CBS.

The most important SDSU game of the year will take place later that day in Carson when they face Utah State in the MWC Championship game on FOX. This will be the 12th and final game that the Aztecs play at Dignity Health Sports Park before moving to Aztec Stadium in San Diego next season.

In my eyes, Utah State owes all their glory to the schedule they played—or didn’t play. The Aggies were fortunate enough to not have to face the top three teams in the West Division during their regular season. Boise played all three teams and Air Force played two. Regardless, USU gets to travel out West next week and face an elite defense. SDSU’s chance to #Win22 is here.

Who’s afraid of the Broncos? Not the Aztecs

By Ken Ables (@ka619sd)

Boise State fans are a curious group. I’m convinced they think college football started in 2006, and that it’s still 2014. College football fans remember the day Boise State came into the national spotlight: their overtime victory over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.

The Mountain West Wire is a blog that covers all MW teams. They claim to cover them equally, but, as in Animal Farm, some are more equal than others. One particularly Orwellian post is one that has appeared at the start of several seasons and asks if any MW team is deserving of Boise State’s respect. 

A better question: does Boise State deserve all the respect they get? Every year the Broncos are picked to win the MW in pre-season polls, yet they have failed to win the MW championship game 67% of those times. Sure, they usually run roughshod over their Mountain Division mates, but often struggle against those in the West. Especially San Diego State. The Aztec-Bronco series is even at 3-3. 

Make no mistake, the Broncos have had great success and have built a powerful program in a relatively short time frame. They were the Group of 5 representative in the first New Year’s 6 game in 2014 (with 2 losses and no Aztecs on the schedule). But they haven’t been back since. 

It’s a program built on gimmicks – many of them successful – including their Statue of Liberty play that beat Oklahoma, a “turnover throne” and their cheesiest gimmick of all: the tacky, wrong-color field of which they are all so proud. I was on the sidelines for the Aztecs’ win in the 2013 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. On the field, you don’t really notice the color; you’re looking forward, not down. The only people it really affects are those watching on TV. It hasn’t affected the Aztecs. San Diego State is 3-1 in Boise’s stadium.

As someone who has worked in marketing and publicity for years, I can appreciate the effectiveness of those gimmicks, and how the national sports media eat them up. They have helped keep the Broncos nationally relevant even though their performance on the field has not. As a 60-year football fan, I roll my eyes at them.

The two teams had not met prior to the Broncos joining the MW in 2011. The Broncos won the first game 52-35 at the Q. The Aztecs headed to Boise the next year for the return game. It would not be more of the same.

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Aztecs Locked In

The Aztecs made their first trip to Boise in 2012. Colin Lockett took the opening kickoff 100 yards to score and to send a message to the #19 Broncos that the Aztecs were not impressed with their reputation or their ugly field. Special Teams were the deciding factor in this game. I

n addition to Colin’s opening TD, Dwayne Garrett blocked a punt and returned it to the Bronco 8. Two plays later Adam Muema scored on a 3-yard run to give the Aztecs a 14-13 lead. Walter Kazee added another TD early in the fourth to extend the lead to 21-13.

After Boise scored a TD with 5:35 left in the game, the Broncos went for 2 in an attempt to tie. Rene Siluano intercepted the conversion pass. The Aztecs took over and ran out the remaining 5:35 for a 21-19 victory.

Aztecs WR Colin Lockett returns the opening kickoff for a touchdown in 2012 (Ernie Anderson Photography)

Different year, same results

Colin Lockett catches the game winning TD in 2013 (Ernie Anderson Photography)

Both teams met back in San Diego in 2013. It was another hard-fought game that ended regulation 28-28. Boise got the ball first in OT and could not get into the end zone. A field goal gave the Broncos a 31-28 lead. Four plays moved the Aztecs to the Bronco 10. Quinn Kaehler hit Colin Lockett in the front corner of the end zone. It was close, so the play was reviewed in the booth. Before the referee announced the replay results, the Aztec bench erupted into cheers. Call confirmed; Aztec win34-31. The two-game series ended the way it started: with a Colin Lockett touchdown.

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Broncos get Byrd’s eye view of #15’s speed

The Aztecs opened 2018 conference play in a day game in Boise broadcast on ESPNU. Boise State entered the game without having thrown an interception all season. That didn’t last long. Darren Hall intercepted a pass in the first quarter. Tariq Thompson and Ronley Lakalaka also picked off first half Bronco passes.

With the Aztecs leading 13-7 in the fourth quarter, and the ball on their own 28, freshman Jordan Byrd received a pitch from Ryan Agnew and took off down the right sideline. Aztecs fans – as well as the Broncos – got their first look at Jordan’s speed. The result: a 72-yard TD run and a 19-7 lead.

The Broncos added a late TD, but it wasn’t enough. Final: Aztecs 19, Broncos 13. Twelve members of the 2021 Aztecs played in that game; two (Tayler Hawkins and Ethan Dedeaux) started.

Cornerback Darren Hall intercepts a pass in 2018 (Ernie Anderson Photography)
RB Jordan Byrd explodes for a long touchdown in 2018 (Ernie Anderson Photography)

Key game to #Win22

A lot is riding on Friday’s game. Win and the Aztecs will host the Mountain West championship game next Saturday. If San Jose State beats Fresno State on Thursday, the Aztecs will be in, regardless of what happens Friday, but are not guaranteed to host the championship game with a loss.  

Kickoff is at 9:00 AM Friday at Dignity Health Sports Park. Forget Black Friday – it’s Red and Black Friday. Do your shopping early and get up to Carson. If you can’t make it, watch it on CBS (real CBS, not CBS Sports) or listen to Ted Leitner and Rich Ohrnberger on 1360.

Listen to this weeks Podcast previewing the SDSU vs Boise State game!

The Ups & Downs with Lady Luck and the Aztecs in Las Vegas

By Ken Ables (@ka619sd via Twitter)

Your friends are always quick to tell you how they won big in their latest trip to Las Vegas, but they don’t seem to be as forthcoming with recaps of their less-than-successful trips. With football fans, specifically Aztecs football fans, they are no different.

The Aztecs head to Vegas for a late Friday game vs. UNLV in the Raiders’ new palace by the Strip. SDSU has played 16 games in Vegas and have 9-7 record in games played in Sam Boyd Stadium: 8-6 vs. UNLV and 1-1 in the Las Vegas Bowl. Will they leave Las Vegas with a 1-0 record in Allegiant Stadium?

Since I just took bettors to task for underreporting losing trips to Vegas, let’s put all the cards on the table and take a look at some big wins, and a very costly bust in Sin City.

Listen to our SDSU vs UNLV Preview Podcast! Available to follow on Spotify, iTunes, iHeart or directly at our Podcast page!

But we had a sure winner…

Everyone heads to Vegas knowing they have a foolproof system to win big. In 1996 the Aztecs headed to Vegas with a 6-2 record, including a 51-31 win over Oklahoma. At 4-1 in conference, the Aztecs would be WAC champs and get a Holiday Bowl berth by winning out. UNLV (coached by Jeff Horton) entered the game 0-10 and going nowhere. Those were the days of high-powered Aztec offense and spotty defense. Still, the Aztecs should have no problem, right? George Jones (275 rushing yards) and Billy Blanton (395 passing yards) led the Aztecs to 42 points. The problem: UNLV scored 44.

Running back George Jones. (Ernie Anderson photography)

Aztecs roll a 7

The early ‘00s brought us the Dark Side Defense led by All-American Kirk Morrison and five other future NFL players. In the 2003 game at UNLV, Aztec QB Adam Hall hit Robert Ortiz in the left corner of the end zone for an early 7-0 lead. That was followed by … no more scoring. The Dark Side shut down the Rebels to record their second shutout of the year. 

Wide receiver Robert Ortiz. (Ernie Anderson photography)

Championship Run

By 2015 the Aztecs were known as a ground-and-pound running program that regularly produced 1,000 yard rushers. After starting with a 1-3 non-conference result, the Aztecs went on a roll in MW play, and arrived in Las Vegas with a 6-0 conference record. Led by DJ Pumphrey’s 139 rushing yards, the Aztecs built a 31-0 lead in the first half. DJ scored two TDs and Rashaad Penny, Dakota Gordon and QB Maxwell Smith each ran for a TD as well. Chase Price caught a TD pass and Damontae Kazee took a punt to the house. Donny Hageman added a field goal. Final Aztecs 52, Rebels 14. The Aztecs beat Nevada the next week to finish MW play a perfect 8-0. They beat Air Force to capture their 20th conference championship, and beat Cincinnati 42-7 in the Hawaii Bowl to finish 11-3.

Defensive back Damontae Kazee returns a punt for a touchdown. (Ernie Anderson photography)

A record-setting performance for the ages

One of the all-time great Aztec games was played in Las Vegas, but the opponent was the University of Houston, not UNLV. DJ Pumphrey came into the game with 6,290 career rushing yards, 107 short of Ron Dayne’s NCAA record 6,347. Early in the fourth quarter he gained 15 yards to break Dayne’s record. He finished the game with 115 yards, 2,133 for the year and 6,405 for his career. Rashaad Penny finished with 1,018 yards making the 2016 Aztecs the only team in NCAA history with a 2,000 and 1,000 yard rusher. After spotting the Cougars a 10-0 first quarter lead, the Aztecs scored 34-unanswered points for a bowl win over an AAC team for the second consecutive year. DJ and Juwan Washington each scored rushing TDs. Ron Smith’s perfectly timed interception turned into a 54-yard pick six, and Senior Curtis Anderson scored his first career touchdown in the fourth quarter of his final Aztec game. 

Running back Donnell Pumphrey Jr. on his way to breaking the NCAA all time rushing yards record in the Las Vegas Bowl. (Ernie Anderson photography)

The Aztecs find themselves in a situation similar to 1996: control their own destiny. This Aztec team is battle-tested, having won 5 games decided by a TD or less, including two multiple overtime games and two wins over PAC-12 teams. Just like 1996, look for the team with Jeff Horton on the sidelines to win.

Kickoff is at 8:30 Friday at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. If you can’t make it to Vegas, watch it on CBS Sports or listen to Ted Leitner and Rich Ohrnberger on 1360.

FLASHBACK: All-Purpose Penny Pounded The ‘Pack

By Ken Ables (@ka619sd via twitter)

2017 Rashaad Penny vs Nevada (Ernie Anderson)

Rashaad Penny had a record-setting career as a running back and kick returner, setting or tying 5 NCAA and 23 Aztec records. He had great games against many teams, but none more than those against the University of Nevada.

In his final game vs. the Wolf Pack in 2017, Rashaad set two Aztec single-game records: 429 all-purpose yards and an incredible 20.8 average yards per carry.

Going into the season, Rashaad already held the Aztec record for kick returns for a touchdown with five and added a sixth with a 99-yarder vs. Arizona State earlier in the season. But he had never returned a punt.

When a first quarter Nevada drive stalled, Rashaad took the field for his first career punt return. The result? A 70-yard touchdown – not a bad per-punt-return average!

And, for good measure, he returned a fourth quarter Wolf Pack kickoff 100 yards for his seventh kickoff return touchdown of his career. That touchdown tied the NCAA records for touchdowns by kickoff return (7) and kicks (8, including his punt return).

A year earlier, on a chilly night in Reno, the Aztecs gained 474 yards on the ground led by Rashaad’s 208, plus 198 from DJ Pumphrey and 70 from Juwan Washington. He scored two rushing touchdowns and caught two passes for 20 yards.

The Wolf Pack were smart enough to aim their kickoffs to Juwan, who returned two for 29 yards. For the season, DJ rushed for 2,133 yards on his way to setting the NCAA career rushing record, and Rashaad gained 1,018. The 2016 Aztecs remain the only team in NCAA history with a 2,000 and 1,000 yard rusher.

2016 Rashaad Penny vs Nevada (Ernie Anderson)

Rashaad’s four-game total vs. Nevada:

  • 472 rushing yards
  • 259 kickoff return yards
  • 70 punt return yards
  • 54 receiving yards
  • 855 all-purpose yards
  • 7 touchdowns
2015 Rashaad Penny vs Nevada (Ernie Anderson)

Rashaad Penny set the bar high for special teams excellence, earning Special Teams Player of the Year three times (and Offensive POY in his senior season). The 2021 Aztecs have continued that tradition, scoring four touchdowns so far this year. And, of course, the best punter in America – at any level – is an Aztec.

Kickoff is at 7:30 Saturday at Dignity Health Sports Park. If you only go to one game this year, this is the one you need to attend. If you can’t make it to Carson, watch it on CBS Sports or listen to Ted Leitner and Rich Ohrnberger on 1360.

FLASHBACK: Hawaii Seems to Bring Out the Best In the Aztecs

By Ken Ables (@ka619sd)

San Diego State and Hawaii meet for the 36th time tonight in Honolulu. SDSU leads the series 22-11-2, and has won 16 of 20 games played since 1990. Some great moments in Aztec football have come in games versus the Rainbow Warriors. Here are four…

Marshall’s other 300-yard game

Every Aztec fan knows Marshall Faulk gained 386 yards vs. UOP as a Freshman in 1991. But did you know about his other 300-yard game? Hawaii was ranked #23 when they visited The Murph in November 1992. Marshall scored 4 TDs on runs of 68 yards, 17 yards and two for 2 yards and gained exactly 300 yards rushing. David Lowery threw three TD passes: 36 and 47 yards to DeAndre Maxwell and 42 yards to Darnay Scott. Lowery completed 21 of 31 for 345 yards in the Aztecs 52-28 victory. One side note: the Referee in that game was Mike Pereira, now famous as the rules analyst on Fox NFL broadcasts.

Aztecs running back Marshall Faulk (Photography by Ernie Anderson)
Aztecs wide receiver Darnay Scott (Photography by Ernie Anderson)

New Year’s Bowl win

Aztec fans want the team to win the MW and get a berth in one of the New Year’s Six bowl games. And when they do, it will be awesome. But it won’t be the first time the Aztecs will have played on New Year’s Day. In 1951 the Aztecs finished the regular season 9-0-1 and won their seventh conference championship. Their reward? A trip to Honolulu to play the University of Hawaii in the Pineapple Bowl on January 1, 1952. Looking for the first bowl win in program history, the Aztecs built a 14-6 lead at the half. Second half TDs by Preston Robinson, Don Jurk and Aztec Hall of Famer Art Preston led to a 34-13 Aztec victory. Coach Bill Schutte’s Aztecs finished the season 10-0-1 and completed the first undefeated season in Aztec history.

What a drag

Rashaad Penny had several amazing games as an Aztec running back and kick returner. In the Aztecs 28-7 win at Hawaii in 2017, Rashaad carried 30 times for a career-high 253 yards. But one carry stands out. On 2nd and 6, he took a handoff from Christian Chapman and ran to an opening on the left side of the line. A Hawaii defender reached out and grabbed his shirt at the Rainbow 40, but Rashaad didn’t go down, dragging the defender to 29 yard line.

Aztecs running back Rashaad Penny (Photography by Ernie Anderson)

‘Bows shut down and shut out

The Aztec Defense held Hawaii to 215 total yards in a 55-0 shutout at the Q in 2017. DJ Pumphrey carried 21 times for 112 yards, Rashaad Penny added 108 yards and 1 TD, and Juwan Washington rushed for 48 and a TD. David Wells and Quest Truxton caught TD passes from Christian Chapman, and Ron Smith and Damontae Kazee scored on pick-six interceptions. John Baron added two field goals. In the Aztecs D1 era, 55 points is the most scored in a shutout, and the 2nd largest margin of victory.

Aztecs cornerback #17 Ron Smith (Photography by Ernie Anderson)
Aztecs running back Juwan Washington (Photography by Ernie Anderson)

Kickoff tonight is at 8:00 Pacific Time. Watch it on FS1 or listen to Ted Leitner and Rich Ohrnberger on XTRA Sports 1360.

FLASHBACK: Fresno State–the Aztecs Oldest Rivalry Game

By Ken Ables (@ka619sd)

San Diego State and Fresno State will play for the 60th time Saturday night, the most games versus any Aztec opponent. San Jose State is a distant second with 45 games played. The series dates back to 1923 – the third season of Aztec football – a 12-2 Aztec win in Balboa Stadium. The Aztecs lead the series 30-25-4. 

You can listen to our full SDSU vs Fresno State Preview Podcast here!

It’s a rivalry that should have been played every year, and over a period that spanned 1945-1979, they did, playing 35 years in a row (and my Dad, Tom Ables, was at every one of those!), with most of those games as conference mates in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. (CCAA) and Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. (PCAA). When the Aztecs left the PCAA for the WAC, the teams did not meet again until the Bulldogs joined the WAC in 1992. When the Aztecs left for the MW, the two teams only played two non-conference games, in 2002 and 2011.

And that 2011 game rekindled the rivalry with the introduction of a new annual trophy: The Old Oil Can.

In the fine tradition of Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech and Clemson-South Carolina, the 2011 game was played at the end of the season after all of the conference games had been played. There was no conference championship game, so it was the last game before the bowl.

The Bulldogs, led by current Raider QB Derek Carr, started fast and built a 21-0 lead with 9:14 left in the second quarter. After that it was all Aztecs.

Linebacker Miles Burris. (Ernie Anderson)

Touchdowns by Ronnie Hillman (20 yards) and Chad Young (1 yard with :11 left) closed the gap to 21-14 at the half. Ronnie added two more TD runs in the third quarter to give the Aztecs a 28-21 lead going into the fourth.

One of Ronnie Hillman’s 3 Touchdowns. (Ernie Anderson)
Fullback Chad Young Scoring a touchdown. (Ernie Anderson)

Fresno scored early in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 28, where it stayed until Ronnie Hillman scored his fourth rushing touchdown with 1:09 left in the game to lead the Aztecs to a 35-28 victory and possession of The Old Oil Can.

The 2011 San Diego State Football team became the first team from either school to win the inaugural Old Oil Can Trophy. (Ernie Anderson)

Fresno joined the MW in 2012, and with that the teams lost control of their schedules. The MW – always one to let a great opportunity pass by – has never scheduled the Aztec-Bulldog game on the final weekend of the season, and that’s a real shame.

San Diego State and Fresno State have met every year since, except last year when the Bulldogs could not field a healthy team. 

The Old Oil Can has resided in San Diego since 2019 when the Aztecs held the Bulldogs to a single touchdown in a 17-7 win. Chase Jasmin scored two touchdowns and Matt Araiza added a Field Goal. 

Kickoff is at 7:30 in Dignity Health Sports Park. If you only go to one game this year, this is the one you need to attend. If you can’t make it up to Carson, watch it on CBS Sports Network or listen to Ted Leitner and Rich Ohrnberger on XTRA Sports AM 1360.

Monty’s Den: Sons of Montezuma At ESPN’s College Game Day

Every week in the college football season ESPN College Gameday, the biggest most watched pre game show chooses a destination campus to host their ultra pep rally show at. With no game featuring two ranked opponents this past week, some SDSU fans lobbied that the ESPN show set up in Colorado Springs at the Air Force Academy. The game would feature the 6-1 Falcons who were hosting the 6-0 Aztecs football team, who were the only undefeated West coast team and ranked #21 in the nation. The game featured the #1 rushing attack vs the #1 defense against the run. It was set to meet for a huge conference tilt and could’ve been a patriotic thing to do for all of the cadets and the surrounding areas.

But in typical ESPN fashion, they decided to go with the big name brand team. The unranked UCLA team—that previously lost to Mountain West’s Fresno State—were hosting Oregon—brought to you by Nike—at the Pasadena Rose Bowl.

Immediately SDSU marketing department pulled themselves together and promoted that SDSU fans should make their voices heard and wave their banners high for the Best in the West team, your San Diego State Aztecs. So without a hesitation, Sons of Montezuma was there to answer the call. Creating signs, gathering our Aztecs flags and tying up our own Custom SOM flag to our poles, we packed up the ride and headed north to the campus of Westwood to represent our Aztecs.

By the time the show started early Saturday morning, we arrived at the UCLA campus before the sunrise could. It was a drizzly damp morning but that didn’t stop passionate college football fans from all over from making their appearance. Our small group of Aztecs connected and saw fans from all over like: Clemson, Duke, SMU, Fresno State, Illinois, Washington State, Oregon, and more. It was a good energy there on the campus plaza and everyone was friendly.

Once the sun started to peek through a little bit through the overcast skies, the flood of social media came in. Sons of Monty and others made the Aztecs logo visible on TV and the signs accomplished their goal.

https://sonsofmontezuma.com/shop/

One of the coolest TV visuals was right after the special Brady Hoke mic’d up segment where ESPN displayed how SDSU has been THE California football team of the past 6 seasons, with a better winning percentage and total higher than Stanford, USC, UCLA and Cal Berkeley. These talking points and visuals cannot be highlighted enough. SDSU truly is no longer a sleeping giant.

These kind of facts have long been the ammunition the Sons of Montezuma have used to fire back at PAC-12 elitist and SDSU non-believers, but to see ESPN the powerful College football engine have to report the actual facts of the San Diego State programs success in the Western region, felt like a battle won.

But it didnt stop there. The great aspect of ESPN’s College gameday was yet to come. The pick’em section where a regional celebrity or school legion of the host is chosen to help add some authenticity to the show and give their best educated guesses on who will win for some of the top games of the day. Well to SDSU’s benefit, the legendary UCLA basketball great, San Diego native and Aztecs graduate parent, the incomparable Bill Walton was the man of the hour.

Once we found out Bill was the chosen celebrity picker, we knew SDSU would get some major love if our game vs the Air Force was to be in the lineup. And sure enough, when it came time for Bill to pick between the Monsters on the Mesa or the Academy, it was a no doubter. We were able to say our thanks to Bill after the show had ended and he was appreciative of us SDSU fans making the trip.

You can view all the College Gameday festivities from the Sons of Montezuma perspective and even our combined SDSU victory highlights over Air Force below on our special highlights video.

After the mornings eventful day, it was time to head back down to San Diego and prepare to watch our Aztecs play Air Force at the usual McGregors Ale House near the Stadium in Mission Valley. There we met other long time Aztecs fans, cheered, stressed out in the 2nd half together and then exchanged stories of Aztecs years past together.

While some may have doubted whether a trip to LA for the event was a good idea or worth their time, we can proudly notch this day as a W for the home team. And of course it never hurts to have our team actually keep winning to add an emphatic punctuation to the days journey up and down the Southern California coast. Now if only our fanbase will actually show up for the biggest game of the season, a home contest vs rival Fresno State. You know we will! Go Aztecs!

FLASHBACK: 2015 Conference Championship Game—Aztecs and Air Force Set to Rematch in 2021?

By Ken Ables (Twitter: @ka619sd)

Every social media post from Aztec Football includes the hashtag #Win22 – their goal of winning the program’s 22nd conference championship. Six years ago, the Aztecs won their 20th conference championship – and first of the conference championship game era – a 27-24 victory over the Air Force Falcons at Qualcomm Stadium.

The non-conference portion of the 2015 schedule was less than spectacular. After an opening win over an overmatched USD, the Aztecs lost their next three games and entered conference play 1-3.

Led by graduate transfer QB Maxwell Smith, the Aztecs opened MW play with a 21-7 win over Fresno State. Followed by a win at Hawai’I, a win at San Jose State, beating Utah State at home, a win at Colorado State, a home win over Wyoming, a win at UNLV. The regular season finale was a 17-10 home win over Nevada for a perfect 8-0 conference record.

The Falcons finished conference play 6-2, good enough to win the Mountain Division. The Aztecs and Falcons had not played during the regular season.

Maxwell Smith had been injured early in the Nevada game the week before and was replaced by Freshman QB Christian Chapman. Smith’s injury turned out to be season-ending, so Chapman made his first collegiate start in the championship game.

The Falcons scored first in the opening quarter; DJ Pumphrey tied it up with a 24-yard pass reception from Chapman 4 seconds into the second. After an Air Force field goal, the Aztecs tied the score on a 22-yarder from Donny Hageman 1:44 left.

Air Force scored first in the third quarter; the Aztecs answered with a 1-yard Dakota Gordon run. The third quarter ended 17-17.

Fullback Dakota Gordon running past the Air Force defenders. (Ernie Anderson)

Rashaad Penny capped off a 74-yard scoring drive with a 28-yard run on his only carry of the night. Hageman’s XP made it 24-17 Aztecs. Air Force answered, however, and the game was tied for the fourth time in the game with 11:49 to play. After punts by both teams, the Aztecs took over on their own 25 with 7:50 left in the game.

Runs by Chase Price and passes from Chapman to Mikah Holder (48 yards) and Eric Judge (13 yards) positioned the Aztecs on the Falcon 29. Donny Hageman kicked a 46-yard field goal with 5:10 left in the game to give the Aztecs a 27-24 lead.

Mikah Holder hauling in a crucial pass reception. (Ernie Anderson)

The Aztec D held to Falcons to a three-and-out and got the gall back with 3:16 left. Air Force had all their timeouts and used them to keep the Aztecs from running out the clock. Tanner Blain punted to the Air Force 22 with :36 left in the game.

With only 36 seconds and no timeouts, the Falcons had to abandon their ground game and pass the ball. They didn’t do too badly, completing three of four passes to get to the Aztec 49. But they never got closer. An Air Force Hail Mary fell short as time expired. Final score: Aztecs 27, Air Force 24. Christian Chapman was named Offensive MVP. Defensive MVP went to Safety Na’im McGee.

Safety Na’im McGee and Quarterback Christian Chapman; Defensive and offensive MVP’s of the 2015 Mountain West Championship Game. (Ernie Anderson)

Check out the highlights and post game celebration of the 2015 SDSU Aztecs football Mountain West Champions

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