Aztecs snap two-game loss streak with 23-17 win over Rams

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Photo by Colleen Humel/SDSU Athletics Helix Charter alumnus Carson Baker

Playing in the face of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, college football has started to painfully realize the challenges.

Most Division II and Division III NCAA institutions canceled their fall sports seasons while many NCAA Division I institutions elected to “un-cancel” seasons and play, albeit with varying degrees of success.

A look at the Mountain West Conference standings, entering the final week of regular season play, indicates that some member schools have played as many as seven games while others have played a few as four games due to cancelations or postponements due to players or staff testing positive for the virus.

San Diego State University improved to 4-2 in conference play, 4-3 overall, following last Saturday’s 29-17 win over Colorado State at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson.

While the Aztecs were playing their seventh game in a planned eight-game schedule, it was only the fourth game for the Rams (1-3). Nevada-Reno (6-1) and Hawaii (3-4) have also played seven games.

SDSU had its Nov. 27 game at Fresno State canceled due to a coronavirus outbreak on the Bulldogs team. The Aztecs got a reprieve by playing at the University of Colorado the next day.

SDSU is set to close out regular season play with a game this Saturday at 13th-ranked BYU (9-1 overall).

The MW championship game is scheduled Dec. 19. The two teams with the best winning conference percentage will pair up for the 2020 title. Both San Jose State (5-0) and Boise State (4-0, 4-1 overall) remain undefeated in conference play and appear to be the front-runners to qualify, though Nevada-Reno remains in the running.

The Aztecs have already been eliminated from championship consideration and will have to hope for selection to a postseason bowl game. The Mountain West has tie-ins to three bowl games.

SDSU currently sits fourth in the conference standings.

Win column

Braced by a 93-yard kickoff return by Jordan Byrd and a 90-yard punt return by B.J. Busbee just 90 seconds apart in the second quarter, SDSU was able to build a 20-3 lead on the Rams en route to snapping a two-game losing streak.

Jordon Brookshire (Santa Rosa) earned the start at quarterback for the Aztecs, delivering an eight-yard touchdown pass to Christian High School alumnus Jesse Matthews. It marked the first career touchdown pass for Brookshire and the first TD catch of the season for Matthews, who tops SDSU receivers with 19 catches for 275 yards.

Place-kicker Matt Araiza (Rancho Bernardo) tied a career-high with three field goals (40, 21 and 38 yards).

The Aztecs led 23-17 at halftime and scored the only points of the second half on a pair of Araiza field goals.

Musical chairs continue at quarterback for the Aztecs.

Brookshire, who was seeing his most extensive action this season, competed 14 of 24 passes for 130 yards while tacking on 38 rushing yards on 23 carries. He was sacked three times.

Neither Helix Charter alum Carson Baker nor Mt. Carmel alum Lucas Johnson, also in the team’s signal-calling cadre, appeared in the game.

Helix Charter alum Michael Shawcroft was credited with three tackles and a half-sack in last Saturday’s win over the Rams. He ranks tied for fifth on the team with 31 tackles.

Prior to last Saturday’s game, SDSU honored all 19 seniors on its roster.

“I am pretty proud of our football team and proud of our seniors,” Aztec head coach Brady Hoke said. “It (the game) meant something to all of us, but particularly meant a lot to those guys that we were honoring.

“I always think your seniors are the guys that you coach for and you play for, and I think (the win) meant something special to them.”

“We talked about how as a program and how as (a) university, we were honoring them for who they are. At the same time, we were honoring their families. They (the seniors) mean an awful lot to us as a staff, and me personally, I always think your seniors are the guys that you coach for and you play for. It was really neat what we did (against the Rams) and I think it meant something special to them.”

Byrd earned honors as the MW Special Teams Player of the Week for his long kickoff return.

The SDSU offense has taken a shake-up the past few weeks. Baker was bypassed as the starter for the Nevada game for Johnson.

Baker appeared in relief duty in the Nevada game, failing to complete his lone passing attempt. He had four completions for 26 yards against Pac-12 member Colorado (3-0) while rushing three times for five yards.

In six games this season, Baker has completed 56.7 percent of his passes for 617 yards with three touchdowns while also rushing for one touchdown.

Johnson passed for 181 yards and one touchdown — seven yards to Kobe Smith — while rushing for a 35-yard touchdown in his first start at Nevada.

The Aztecs drove to the Wolf Pack five-yard line in the closing seconds but failed to score a potential game-winning touchdown.

Bell’s two-yard run gave the Aztecs a 21-16 lead over the Wolf Pack at halftime. However, the visitors could muster zero points in the second half as Nevada 10 unanswered points on Romero Doubs’ 50-yard touchdown reception and a 27-yard field goal by Brandon Talton.

SDSU received its 10 points in last Saturday’s loss on a 57-yard interception return by Darren Hall and a 48-yard field goal by Matt Araiza.

Alumni report

Mission Hills and Eastlake alum Chris Olave had 10 catches for 139 yards and scored on a 41-yard pass from quarterback Justin Fields as No. 4 Ohio State (5-0) defeated Michigan State by a score of 52-12. Olave has 36 receptions for 528 yards and five touchdowns through five games.

Mater Dei Catholic alum C.J. Verdell had six carries for 10 yards in No. 23 Oregon’s 21-17 upset loss to the Cal Golden Bears. Verdell has rushed for 285 yards and three touchdowns this season for the Ducks (3-2) after racking up 1,220 yards and eight TDs last season.

Otay Ranch alum Devin Lloyd had seven tackles in a 30-24 Pac-12 victory against Oregon State. Lloyd, a semifinalist for the 2020 Butkus Award, tops the Utes (1-2) with 29 tackles, including 18 solo stops, one sack and one forced fumble, through three games.

Mater Dei Catholic alum Quentin Frazier registered four tackles for Hawaii (3-4) in its 35-24 loss to undefeated San Jose State.

Helix Charter alum Elelyon Noa had 10 carries for 30 yards for Utah State (1-5) in its 35-7 setback to the Air Force Academy (3-2).

Mission Hills alum Jack Tuttle made his first career start at quarterback for the 12th-ranked Indiana Hoosiers (6-1) by completing 13 of 22 attempts for 130 yards and two touchdown passes in its 14-6 win over the 16th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers (2-2).

College Football Top 25 Poll

1. Alabama (9-0), 2. Notre Dame (10-0), 3. Clemson (9-1), 4. Ohio State (5-0), 5. Texas A&M (7-1), 6. Florida (8-1), 7. Cincinnati (8-0), 8. Georgia (6-2), 9. Iowa State (8-2), 10. Miami (Fla.) (8-1), 11. Oklahoma (7-2), 12. Indiana (6-1), 13. BYU (9-1), 14. Northwestern (5-1), 15. Oklahoma State (6-3), 16. Wisconsin (2-2), 17. North Carolina (7-3), 18. Coastal (10-0), 19. Iowa (5-2), 20. USC (4-0), 21. Marshall (7-1), 22. Washington (3-1), 23. Oregon (3-2), 24, Tulsa (6-1), 25. Louisiana-Lafayette (9-1).