Message boards and Twitter threads have replaced the water cooler as the forum for discussing and arguing sports today. Boomers and millennials, each sure their generation’s athletes are the best, try to convince the others that their contemporaries are superior, with little luck in changing anyone’s mind.
While comparing generations in basketball, football or baseball are all subject to personal bias, some sports, like track and field or swimming are easy to decide: the fastest or highest or longest is the best, regardless of when it happened.
A great example – and one with an Aztec angle – is the men’s long jump. The 2022 NCAA champ in the men’s long jump is Wayne Pinnock from Tennessee, with a winning jump of 26’3” on June 8. Congratulations.
So why are we talking about an athlete from another school in a sport in which San Diego State doesn’t even field a team? Because of a great Aztec athlete whose name you may or may not know. If you don’t, you really should if you consider yourself an Aztec fan.
Willie Steele, a long jumper on the Aztec track and field team was the first world-class athlete from San Diego State. Willie was also the first Aztec to win a D-1 individual national championship with a winning jump of 26’6”. In 1947.
Let that sink in. The winning long jump (known then as the broad jump) from 75 years ago would have won the 2022 NCAA title by 3 inches. 75 YEARS!
Willie was also the 1947 National AAU champion and won the gold medal at the London Olympics in 1948. Interestingly, neither of those jumps were farther than 26’6”.
Willie’s jumping ability also had a direct impact on the Ables family. My Dad Tom, just out of the Navy, was a freshman at State and sports editor of the Aztec (before it became a daily) for the 1946-47 school year. The school had a general PR guy, but no one dedicated to sports publicity or information.
With Willie and javelin thrower Bill Morales both qualifying for the NCAA finals, the athletic department determined that a dedicated sports publicity director was needed. Since he was the sports editor, Tom was asked first. He accepted immediately, and it launched a 70 year career in marketing and publicity, and a love of Aztec sports.
Tom, Willie and Bill, along with head coach Choc Sportsman and athletic director Bill Terry drove to the finals at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Here’s how Tom described Willie’s winning jump in the foreword to his book GO AZTECS!:
“At the meet, Willie was absolutely incredible! I happened to be down on the field at the time. His winning jump of 26’6” just barely missed Jesse Owens’ world record at the time, 26’8¼”.
“I remember standing there watching Willie as he jumped several inches back on the board to make sure he did not foul. From toe to landing, he had to have flown at least 26’9”. And the world record would have come back with him to little San Diego State College!”
With all that jumping talent one might think that Willie would concentrate only on track and field. Nope. Other Aztec teams needed Willie and he was happy to oblige. He played basketball, jumping center at 6’1”, and first base on the baseball team.
He gave football a try, but was injured in a scrimmage and never got in a game. Tom, who had seen thousands of Aztecs compete in nearly every sport SDSU sponsors (and some it no longer does) said Willie was the greatest pure Aztec athlete he had ever seen.
Willie defended his NCAA title in 1948. Other championships include the 1948 Olympic trials and Olympics, 1946 and 1947 AAU.
Willie is a member of the inaugural class of the Aztec Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame and the Hall of Champions in San Diego. After track, Willie spent most of his working career in Oakland as a director in the parks department. He passed away at age 66 in 1989.
Track and Field is one of the most successful programs in SDSU athletics history, with numerous national champions and Olympic medalists for both Aztec men and women, including Arnie Robinson, Whitney Ashley, Bob Smith, Shanieka Thomas Ricketts and many others. And, of course, Willie Steele.
The Aztec women’s team has won the last two Mountain West outdoor championships, four of the past five, and have sent athletes to 24 of the past 25 NCAA Outdoor Championships, including the 4×100 and 4×400 relay teams this year.
But there’s no men’s team, and that’s a shame. One of SDSU’s most successful programs was discontinued 30 years ago. And it’s also personal to the Ables family. Not only did the program launch my Dad’s career (which I continue, along with my son), I was a member of the 1976 and 1977 men’s track team as a discus and hammer thrower, and my cousin Mark was a hurdler on the 1972-75 teams.
GO AZTECS! – and bring back Men’s Track!
Watch below for the first of our All-Time Aztecs Basketball player list, Milton “Milky” Phelps.
Students at what was then called San Diego State College in early 1941 were living the high life. The majority of them were involved in Greek life, organizations, and clubs like acapella, fencing club, and the Ice-Tecs (ice-skating) — to name a few. With a population of just over 200,000 people at the time, the sights of SD were more accessible and the beaches were far less crowded. Peaceful paradise.
Up on the beautiful new Montezuma Mesa campus, Walter R. Hepner was the university president and the Aztecs had just won the NAIA Basketball National Championship. Being runners up the previous two years, the Aztecs finally got over the hump in the 32-team single-elimination tournament in Kansas City by beating Murray State 36-34 in the championship game. The third time was the charm. Students and the community celebrated their victory with a parade and greeted the returning champs at the Sante Fe Depot Station in downtown San Diego. It was an exciting time for all who attended.
The Aztec, March 18, 1941. “Cagers” was a popular term for basketball players because games were played in a cage at the time. Eerily foreshadowing WW2, an SBD Dauntless Divebomber is pictured on the front page
Their celebration didn’t last long. Just 9 months later, the country was at war with the Axis Powers. The championship trophy hadn’t even accumulated dust yet. Like most men around the country, many who had graduated from, attended, or would eventually attend San Diego State sprung to answer the call of military service. It is estimated that there were more than 3,500 Fighting Aztecs involved in the conflict. At least 152 of them were confirmed to have perished by the war’s end.
The Aztec Newsletter was the brilliant idea of Dr. Lauren C. Post, a San Diego State College geography professor and football coach. The newsletter was created so that students, alumni, families, and soldiers could stay up to date with information on the men scattered around the globe that attended San Diego State.
SDSU was a whole lot smaller than it is today—try around 2,000 students total. Most people knew each other. These were classmates, friends, and neighbors that waved at each other with friendly smiles.
The newsletter started off as a collection of letters but as the war progressed, included a list of fatalities, casualties, MIA, promotions, awards, and other updates. It launched on May 6th, 1942, and spanned 48 issues until March 1946. Each issue was mailed to around 3000 monthly readers at home and abroad. Dr. Post did an excellent job keeping the SDSU community connected, wherever they were in the world. Each edition was extremely detailed with as much information as he could collect. It was the only newsletter of its kind in the nation that compiled students’ wartime experiences from a single university. Not only did the newsletter preserve history, but it also served as a testament to San Diego State’s pride during wartime.
The Fighting Aztecs
The first Aztec lost his life at the hands of battle in May 1940, a full year and a half before America’s involvement in WW2. Richard D. Aubert was originally from Canada but graduated from San Diego High and attended SDSU shortly after. He sensed a war brewing in Europe and figured that North America would be involved sooner or later. In 1938, he returned to Canada without telling his mother and became a pilot in the Royal Air Force.
Once war broke out in Europe, Aubert was stationed in England and would readily fly across the English Channel to combat the German Luftwaffe. Piloting an RAF Supermarine Spitfire fighter, Aubert was credited with one kill of a Nazi Ju-88 Bomber before being shot down near Dunkirk, France. His body was never recovered as the British Expeditionary Forces were already retreating out of the country because of the overwhelming German blitzkrieg during The Battle of France.
Back home, fears of the European war were brewing but life carried on as normal until Pearl Harbor was suddenly attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan in December 1941. Eventually, each player of the San Diego State College 1941 national championship team, a team manager, and head coach Morris Gross left San Diego to serve during the Second World War. Three of them did not return home.
The student newspaper, The Aztec, now named The Daily Aztec, announced his death with the following statement: “‘Milky’ Phelps is dead, and with his death passes an age in San Diego State College athletic history. An age in which by the ability and magnetism of one person, another who gave others rise to talents long hidden in them and pulled themselves to unscaled heights.”
The news of Phelps’ death made the war a reality on campus. One student wrote, “Perhaps all of us will awaken — awaken and realize that it is going to take a lot more cool thinking and a hell of a lot more hot fighting before we come out on top”. A few Fighting Aztecs expressed that they now had a personal reason to fight after hearing the news. For many students, he was the first person that they knew whose death was tied to the conflict. Unfortunately, many more would follow on various fronts.
To keep up spirits following more early student deaths, President Hepner wrote in AztecNewsletter no. 10, “The Aztec spirit and service extend throughout the world!… From all sections of the globe we receive splendid reports of Aztec action and contribution and always, dare I say, with a feeling of “fatherly pride!” The sons of Montezuma carry on!”
Paul Arthur Fern, known as “Stump”, was the manager and mascot of the national championship team. Beyond that, he was heavily involved on campus. Fern served as the President of Associated Men’s Students, was a member of the Blue Key Honor Society, the Delta Eta Omega Fraternity, most recently known at SDSU as Kappa Sigma, Glee Club, and played on the freshman basketball team in 1937.
The Navy Ensign had a sense of humor. He wrote Professor Post in January of 1943, “Please tell Doc. [Lewis] Lesley I’d like to be sitting in on one of his Modern Germany lectures, at this present time. I’ll bet the Furher’s ears are burning”.
In August 1943, Fern was killed during a beach landing operation for the land Battle of Vella Lavella in the South Pacific. He left behind a wife, Dorothea, and a few-week-old baby girl, Linda, whom he had never met. Linda Fern eventually attended SDSU in the early 1960s and, to Dr. Post’s surprise, he emotionally discovered that she was a student in one of his geography courses.
Mason Willard “Tex” Harris went from being a co-captain of the 1941 national championship team to an Army Captain serving with the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion in Europe.
Harris fought with his unit and the 101st airborne at the strategically important crossroad town of Bastogne during the Battle of the Buldge. Bastogne is storied as a battle with some of the harshest fighting conditions in Europe. Being severely under-equipped with minimal supplies and summer clothing during that brutal Belgian winter of December 1944, he, along with his fellow soldiers, held out the surrounded city of Bastogne and defended its northeastern flank until General George Patton’s Third Army relieved and rescued them. Throughout the siege, with incredible efficiency, Harris’ battalion destroyed around 40 German tanks and lost only six M18 Hellcat Tanks.
In a letter to Dr. Post, dated January 30th, 1945, Harris recalled the Battle of Bastogne as “Quite an event and a job well done.” He wrote, “We were getting low on supplies and we got our first supply by air. I have never seen anything so beautiful as those C47s & fighter protection as they came in low circled and got their signal from pathfinders who were dropped the day before and then came back & started their drop of supplies. Those colored chutes as they floated down were beautiful & words can’t describe the feeling… Doc it’s not possible to put on paper what one feels in those instances.” Harris also mentioned that there were many stories from that battle that he simply could not bring himself to describe.
Harris was killed in action pushing toward the Rhine River in Germany on March 3rd, 1945, just two months before the Allies achieved victory in Europe. He was survived by a wife and daughter. He never met his 3-month-old baby girl who was born while he was fighting in Bastogne.
There were a great many San Diego State students who stormed the beaches and parachuted onto the lands of Normandy on D-Day, June 6th, 1944. Each whose sole mission was to liberate the oppressed people of Europe and take down the German war machine.
Following D-Day, in Aztec Newsletter no. 29, Dr. Post’s opening address stated, “As of this date (July 13), I have checked various sources, and really, it seems that State College did not lose a single man in Normandy or the English Channel… only Lt. James White was injured… It is almost unbelievable that we could have made the invasion without a single Aztec being lost.” Indeed, it was too good to be true.
Later, it was discovered that SDSU graduate, Herman Addleson, was killed parachuting into Normandy during the early hours of D-Day when he landed in a flooded field and drowned. Nazis were ordered to flood fields as a part of the Atlantic Wall defense. He is the only known Aztec to be killed in action during the Day of Days.
Addleson participated in the choir, ran track for SDSU, and graduated from the university in 1941. Some knew him as “the guy who sold Coke’s at San Diego State’s basketball games”.
Addleson didn’t have to enlist in the military. His cleft lip made him 4F, or unfit for military service. The Army informed him that if he had that fixed, he would be eligible to enlist. He didn’t have enough funds to pay for the operation. However, baseball Hall of Famer and local San Diegan, Ted Williams, heard of Addleson’s story and the Red Sox legend fully paid for the procedure.
On the 1st of May 1944, while stationed in England just a month before the invasion and his death, Addleson wrote Dr. Post, “Seems like a lot of Aztecs are over here, yet I haven’t been able to get around to locate any, except Tom Rice and Guy Sessions, buddy paratroopers. We are going to give those Nazi[s] hell on “D” Day, so you can see old Aztec is well represented in the Airborne outfit.”
Herman Addleson and Tom Rice were both members of the newly formed 101st Airborne Division, known as the Screaming Eagles. The unit was popularized in HBO’s ‘Band of Brothers’ WW2 Miniseries, which debuted in the early 2000s and now has a cult-like following. The Airborne recruited athletes and college students. Addleson and Rice checked off both boxes because they both ran track together for the Aztecs.
Tom Rice was a risk-taker, which he noted as his motivation for joining the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st Airborne. There he was the number one jumper of an 18-man paratrooper squad on D-Day and served as a platoon leader for half a year.
Shortly before Rice made his jump into Normandy, he was violently thrown out of his C-47 aircraft and dangled there by his wedged arm. He was able to release himself, but during the experience lost his prized watch, which he jokes that he “hopes some good Frenchman found it.” Upon parachuting into France, he destroyed communication outposts around the Cotentin Peninsula and fought to control small towns in that region including Sainte-Mère-Église and the town of Carentan, where he is now an honorary citizen.
In addition to Rice serving in Normandy, highlights of his service include helping liberate Holland by taking part in Operation Market Garden, fighting in the Battle of the Buldge, where he was pinned down in Bastogne for hours and shot in the leg and arm by a German sniper, and assisting in capturing The Eagle’s Nest, the nickname for Hitler’s retreat in the Bavarian Alps town of Berchtesgaden in southern Germany.
While Rice was in Berchtesgaden, the war came to a close with the death of Hitler and the full surrender of Germany. The 101st had some downtime and some formed a track team. With Rice being on that track team at San Diego State, he ran in the 5,000-meter race there and lost to another soldier from UCLA by 20 yards. Of course, Rice was still recovering from the bullet wounds he received in Belgium. Years later, while Rice was coaching cross-country for Chula Vista High School, he had met the man again as an opposing coach at a meet. The soldier from UCLA didn’t recognize him, nor did Rice mention Berchtesgaden, but Rice made sure that his team came out victorious that day.
Tom Rice was honorably discharged from the Army in December 1945 and returned to SDSU to earn his degree. He received 6 elective units for his service — Those who served as officers were granted 9 units. He went on to teach history and government at San Diego schools for more than 40 years, married his wife Brenda, and had five children.
He again parachuted into Normandy from a C-47 aircraft for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion at age 97, made another jump into Holland at age 98, and lastly freefell into Coronado, California for his 100th birthday in 2021. Tom Rice is still alive and well, being one of the last living WW2 veterans. He currently lives in his childhood home in Coronado.
To everyone in and around the SDSU community who has or is currently serving, thank you for your service and sacrifice. We hope to never again lose another son or daughter of Montezuma to the hands of battle.
It is with our most excitement today to reveal the Sons of Montezuma NIL Team’s newest member, Aztecs standout wide receiver Jesse Matthews. We are pleased to make this announcement that’s been a few weeks in the making with Jesse.
The senior Matthews has been a tremendous example of a student athlete both on and off the field since taking his chance to be a member of this SDSU football program as a walk-on. His story is one that sonsofmontezuma.com cannot wait to share with the sports world. A local footballer with family ties to the great game at the highest of levels, Jesse has agreed to share his story with us–his way and we couldn’t be happier to do so.
Weeks ago while meeting with Jesse on campus to go over the final details of our agreement, we got the chance to briefly get to know the young Aztecs player and we can sense the excitement he had for Sons of Montezuma.
“I’ve already got a Sons of Montezuma flag in our house on campus” Matthew noted. “It’s Connor’s and we have it hanging up.” (referencing fellow teammate SDSU tight end Connor McBride).
Jesse’s highlights from the time he arrived on Montezuma Mesa have been nothing short of spectacular. Whether catching the ball or even throwing the ball, this 2021 season alone found Jesse on our Top-12 plays of 2021 more times than we can remember.
Now according to our agreement with Jesse, he will have much more than just a flag. Sons of Montezuma has agreed to not only hold the exclusive rights to Jesse Matthews podcast appearances, but also the custom merchandise items of both his #45 Jersey/T-shirt (available for sale this week before Spring football camp), as well as a second apparel item soon to come in the summer.
With this being the 100th team in SDSU Aztecs football history and moving into the new Snapdragon Stadium, the good fortunes of all Jessie’s hard work have come to this season. As the weeks go on and we develop our branding for Jesse, stay tuned to all we put together for him. This week Jesse will make his Sons of Montezuma Podcast debut with the guys, so be sure to subscribe today!
With younger brother and fellow linebacker Cooper deciding to enter the transfer portal after attending the University of Washington, the writing was on the wall and all the makings of a brotherly reunion in San Diego seemed highly likely.
And so it came to pass that Cooper McDonald did indeed pack his bags and headed out of the Pacific Northwest, down the trail to Sunny San Diego, and became a prized addition to the vaunted Aztecs defense.
Sons of Montezuma knew immediately that we wanted the McDonald brothers on our team! With 2021 being the first season of legally permissible NIL agreements with student athletes, Sons of Montezuma had an overwhelmingly positive experience working with SDSU stand out players Greg Bell and Matt Araiza.
Signing Caden & Cooper to this 2022 Sons of Monty Team is a huge deal for us. To represent a family this way is an ultimate honor. The greatest aspect of College football that makes it better than almost any other form of the game, IS the close knit family aspect.
Everyone wants the NFL dream of playing at the highest level of your position. But often times the business and harsh realities of the league, don’t always shine the brightest of lights on a footballers time in the machine. These signings helped fulfill one of the most important visions for the SOM brand.
Our desire is not only to be a hub of information for SDSU Alumni and fans, or just to create fun experiences and unique products. But Sons of Montezuma seeks to create opportunities and an outlet that bridges the gap between the Aztecs men who put on the greatest football helmet in all of Collegiate Sports and their faithful family & friends they call, Aztecs4Life.
Our partnership agreement with Caden & Cooper provides them each with their own Shersey (T-shirt/Jersey) with the Sons of Montezuma brand name on the front chest, their official number front and back, and most importantly their proud McDonald last name big and bold on the backside for all to see.
Also included is a separate t-shirt style that will feature both McDonald brothers on the front in an illustration style with much more creativity and fun for those fans that want something more unique.
We thank Caden & Cooper McDonald for seeing this vision and partnering with Sons of Montezuma. And we look forward to many more collaborations and partnerships with more Aztecs footballers this 100th season of SDSU football.
Listen below for the latest episode of the Sons of Montezuma Podcast featuring San Diego high school recruiting tracker Ruben Peña Sr of SDFNL. Also our resident coach, former SDSU assistant Coach C gives his full QB transfer Braxton Burmeister scouting report. Listen & Subscribe today!
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.
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.
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)
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.
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).
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.
Listen to the latest Son of Montezuma Podcast today!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Different year, same results
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.