Aztecs Special Teams Outscore Rams In 29-17 Victory
San Diego State University’s Special Teams are, in fact, special.
Back-to-back Aztec kickoff and punt returns for touchdown? Believe it.
Carson, CA- The San Diego State Aztecs (4-3, 4-2 MW) hosted the Colorado State Rams (1-3, 1-3 MW) on Senior Night this past Saturday evening, and ended the night with a decisive 29-17 victory at their temporary home field, Dignity Health Sports Park.
An Aztecs win surprised nobody, however the way the game was won was anything but predictable. With a single offensive touchdown, the other 23 points by the Aztecs came entirely from Special Teams.
Chalk those points up to one extra point after the first touchdown by offense; TWO back-to-back kickoff returns for touchdown, with one made extra point and one missed- and then three additional sequential field goals.
San Diego State scored two dazzling touchdowns in the second quarter on Jordan Byrd’s 93-yard kickoff return and BJ Busbee’s 90-yard punt return only 90 seconds later.
Making his first career start, quarterback Jordan Brookshire made an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jessee Matthews, and Matt Araiza tied his career-high with three field goals to help SDSU get back to winning after back-to-back losses.
The Aztecs became the first school to manage a kickoff and punt return for touchdown in the same quarter since Tennessee pulled the feat off in the third period at Kentucky on Oct. 31, 2015.
After an exchange of punts on the first three possessions of the game, SDSU jumped took a 7-0 lead at 4:41 of the first quarter on Brookshire’s first career touchdown pass. The redshirt junior carried twice for 19 yards on the drive and added 42 yards through the air, including the final eight on a swing pass to Matthews, who effortlessly entered the end zone for the score.
CSU made it 7-3 on a 43-yard field goal by Robert Liss in less than three minutes into the second period, right before the Aztecs’ special team lit it up big time…
On the next kickoff, Byrd received football near the sideline and cut across the field and then his internal turbo kicked in. After hustling past most of the reams, the remaining few who could potentially stop him ate his dust, before he registered a 93-yard return to touchdown to give SDSU a 14-3 lead.
The Aztecs then held CSU to a three-and-out. As the announcers were still commenting on how Byrd delivered the 12th kickoff return for touchdown since 2015, the unthinkable happened. Only 1:30 after Byrd, Busbee furiously received Ryan Stonehouse’s punt impressively blazed a curved path for 90 yards through heavy coverage until he found the end zone. Despite missing the extra point, SDSU expanded their lead to 20-3.
BJ Busbee became the first SDSU player to return a punt for a touchdown on his first career attempt since Rashaad Penny managed to do so vs. Nevada on Oct. 28, 2017.
The Rams nearly answered back with special teams magic of their own, as Thomas Pannunzio returned Matt Araiza’s kickoff 58 yards to the Aztec 45.
Impressively, Matt Araiza stopped Pannunzio from going all the way.
Six plays later, Marcus McElroy Jr. scored making it 20-10 with 8:22 to go.
Jordan Byrd then gave the Rams a big scare again with a 55-yard kickoff return to the CSU 39. SDSU quickly advanced on a nine-yard pass to Ethan Dedeaux and an eight-yard run by Brookshire. The Aztecs failed to convert, so Araiza nailed a field goal from 40 yards to give the Aztecs a 23-10 extension with just over five minutes left to the half.
Three plays later, the Rams managed to position themselves for McElroy to once again find the end zone on a 37-yard touchdown.
The Aztecs maintained a too-close-for-comfort 23-17 lead at the half.
In the third quarter the Rams made it to the Aztecs’ 19 after a 15-yard run by A’Jon Vivens on a 4th and 1 play. The Aztecs stood then held the Rams and even drove them backward nine yards, after a third down on a QB sack, before kicker Liss came up very well short on a 47-yard field goal attempt. Impressively the Aztecs’ defense stopped the Rams cold.
The Aztecs then drove 68 yards on 15 plays over seven minutes plus, eating a lot of clock, before Matt Araiza scored a 21-yard field goal to put the Aztecs up 26-17 with 12:21 left in the fourth. Brookshire managed a19-yard completion to Kaegun Williams before getting another 15-yard gain with Daniel Bellinger.
After the Rams regained possession Darren Hall managed his sixth career interception, on a pass from O’Brien that was bound for Dante Wright. Hall returned the ball 15 yards to the CSU 19, before Araiza made his third field goal expanding the Aztec lead to 29-17 with under ten minutes to go.
The Aztecs held the Rams to just 32 yards on their final two drives of the contest, with Tayler Hawkins intercepting reserve quarterback Todd Centeio at the Aztec 35 with 3:35 to go.
Brookshire completed 14 of 24 passes for 130 yards, including one touchdown, while rushing 23 times for a team-high 38 yards. He is the fifth Aztec quarterback to win in his starting debut in the last six opportunities.
Bellinger tied for game-high honors with five receptions for 53 yards, while Matthews, Dedeaux and Dominic Benson had two catches each.
San Diego State wraps its regular-season campaign next weekend in Provo, Utah, for a non-conference match with No. 8/8 Brigham Young University on Saturday, Dec. 12. Kickoff is at 8 p.m. MST / 7 p.m. PST and the gamewill be aired on ESPN2.