Nov 19, 2021; Paradise, Nevada, USA; San Diego State Aztecs wide receiver Jesse Matthews (45) celebrates with San Diego State Aztecs tight end Jay Rudolph (82) and San Diego State Aztecs wide receiver Tyrell Shavers (14) after scoring a touchdown against the UNLV Rebels at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Early game, high stakes for No. 21 San Diego St. vs. Boise St.

No. 21 San Diego State can clinch a spot in the Mountain West Conference championship game when it hosts Boise State on Friday morning in Carson, Calif.

The Aztecs (10-1, 6-1 MW) control their fate in the West division as they own a one-game lead over Fresno State. However, a loss could potentially be a problem, as the Bulldogs own the tiebreaker by virtue of their 30-20 victory over San Diego State on Oct. 30.

The Aztecs have won 10 or more games in five of the past seven seasons but haven’t played in the Mountain West title game since 2016.

Boise State (7-4, 5-2) certainly needs a win as well. The Broncos are part of a three-way tie for first in the Mountain division and the other two teams (Air Force, Utah State) play their games on Saturday.

“It’s a huge opportunity for both teams for there to be a lot of things on the line,” Boise State coach Andy Avalos said.

In a unique occurrence, the game will start at 9 a.m. local time (noon ET) so that it can air nationally on CBS. Aztecs coach Brady Hoke said his team will have their pregame meal at 5:30 a.m.

“We’re up in the morning all the time year-round so our guys are used to it,” Hoke said of the early wakeup time.

Avalos sang a similar tune.

“We practice in the mornings, we operate in the mornings,” Avalos said. “The wake-up is a little earlier. … We’re going to need (to be ready) bright and early on Friday morning.”

San Diego State has won three straight games but wasn’t all that sharp in a 28-20 road win over UNLV on Nov. 19.

The Aztecs were outgained 394-290 but prevailed on the strength of three touchdown hookups between quarterback Lucas Johnson and Jesse Matthews.

“I didn’t think we played Aztec football, especially on the defensive side,” Hoke said. “We’ve got to do a better job. We can’t give up big plays thrown over our heads. We’ve got to coach better. We as a staff, we got to look at some things.”

Boise State routed New Mexico 37-0 last Saturday for its fourth consecutive win. The Broncos held the Lobos to 101 total yards and scored two touchdowns on blocked punts.

George Holani rushed for 114 yards, marking his third straight 100-yard outing.

Star receiver Khalil Shakir caught seven passes for 116 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown from Hank Bachmeier on the final play of the first half.

Shakir ranks fifth in Boise State history with 2,804 receiving yards and sixth with 202 receptions. He has 71 catches for 1,043 yards and six touchdowns this season and has indicated he will likely leave for the NFL after the season.

“There’s so much that he does behind the scenes as a leader, a person and a man,” Avalos said. “He’s one of the humblest guys on the team as well, and we’re very grateful he’s been a part of this brotherhood and part of this program.”

The teams have split six all-time meetings. San Diego State notched a 19-13 win at Boise State in 2018 in the most recent matchup.

–Field Level Media

Nov 19, 2021; Paradise, Nevada, USA; San Diego State Aztecs wide receiver Jesse Matthews (45) makes a touchdown reception against UNLV Rebels defensive back Bryce Jackson (24) at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Lucas Johnson’s 3 TD passes lift No. 19 SDSU over UNLV

Lucas Johnson threw three touchdown passes to Jesse Matthews, helping No. 19 San Diego State escape Las Vegas with a 28-20 victory over UNLV in Mountain West play on Friday night.

Andrew Aleki returned an interception for touchdown for the second time this season for the Aztecs (10-1, 6-1 MW), who reached double digits in victories for the fifth time in the past seven seasons. Seyddrick Lakalaka added an interception to end the Rebels’ last drive.

UNLV’s Justin Rogers replaced injured Cameron Friel in the second quarter and completed 15 of 21 passes for 305 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Junior Steve Jenkins caught five passes for a career-high 176 yards while Zyell Griffin and Giovanni Fauolo had scoring receptions for the Rebels (2-9, 2-5).

Jacoby Windman racked up three sacks for UNLV, but star runner Charles Williams was held to 35 yards on 16 carries.

Johnson completed 18 of 24 passes for 192 yards and one interception for the Aztecs, and Matthews caught nine passes for 75 yards. The West division leaders were outgained 394 yards to 290 while beating the Rebels for the 16th time in the past 20 meetings.

Friel was carted off with a toe injury early in the second quarter. He completed 6 of 13 passes for 67 yards and the interception Aleki brought back for a score.

The Rebels pulled within 21-17 in the third quarter after driving 94 yards on six plays. Rogers teamed up with Jenkins on an 80-yard pass play to the San Diego State 6-yard line and later tossed an 8-yard touchdown pass to Fauolo with 8:24 left in the period.

Daniel Gutierrez kicked a 22-yard field goal with 1:13 left in the third quarter to pull UNLV within one.

San Diego State stretched its lead to eight on Johnson’s 7-yard scoring pass to Matthews with 3:33 left in the contest. Lakalaka intercepted Rogers with 1:45 remaining, and the Aztecs ran out the clock.

Johnson and Matthews teamed up on their first two touchdowns late in the second quarter as San Diego State took a 21-10 halftime lead.

Matthews caught a 4-yard scoring pass from Johnson to give the Aztecs a 14-10 edge with 2:31 left. They connected again on a 24-yard touchdown pass with five seconds left.

The Aztecs’ first points came when Aleki picked up the interception off a deflection and returned it 16 yards to give his team a 7-3 lead with 5:15 remaining in the first quarter.

UNLV moved ahead 10-7 when Rogers connected with a wide-open Griffin on a 43-yard scoring pass with 6:13 left in the half.

–Field Level Media

Nov 13, 2021; Carson, California, USA; San Diego State Aztecs tight end Daniel Bellinger (88) runs the ball against Nevada Wolf Pack defensive back JoJuan Clairborne (8) during the first half at Dignity Health Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Late field goal lifts No. 22 San Diego State over Nevada

Matt Araiza kicked a 35-yard field goal with 1:21 left Saturday night to lift No. 22 San Diego State to a 23-21 win over Nevada in Carson, Calif.

The result allowed the Aztecs (9-1, 5-1 Mountain West) to take sole possession of first place in the conference’s West Division. They will play for the conference title if they can win their final two games, at UNLV and against Boise State.

San Diego State drove 53 yards in 12 plays to set up Araiza’s third field goal of the night. The key plays were Lucas Johnson passes of 19 yards to Elijah Kothe and 17 yards to TJ Sullivan that made Araiza’s kick a relative chip shot.

The Wolfpack (7-3, 4-2) had a final drive to win it, but Carson Strong’s fourth-and-2 throw for Melquan Stovall from their 49 was broken up by Patrick McMorris at the Aztecs’ 40 with 42 seconds left.

Strong completed 34 of 48 passes for 350 yards and all three Nevada touchdowns, including a 54-yard catch-and-run to Romeo Doubs with 9:57 remaining in the game to give the Wolfpack a one-point edge.

Johnson hit on 21 of 34 passes for 176 yards with a touchdown, while Greg Bell rushed 16 times for 104 yards for San Diego State. It outrushed Nevada 186-8.

San Diego State initiated scoring with 3:42 left in the first quarter when Johnson flipped a 2-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Bellinger, capping a 12-play, 99-yard drive that ate more than 5 1/2 minutes off the clock.

Nevada wasted little time tying the score. Strong got his arm cranking on an 85-yard march that ended on the first play of the second quarter when he connected with Tory Horton on a 28-yard scoring strike.

The Aztecs grinded out another drive that lasted more than five minutes, regaining a 10-7 edge when Araiza converted a 48-yard field goal at the 9:35 mark. Araiza had a chance to put them ahead by six points on the half’s final play, but he came up short on a 55-yard attempt.

–Field Level Media

Oct 15, 2021; San Jose, California, USA; San Diego State Aztecs kicker Matt Araiza (2) gestures after a made field goal during the second quarter against the San Jose State Spartans at CEFCU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Nevada aiming for fourth straight win over No. 22 San Diego State

If No. 22 San Diego State wins the Mountain West Conference football championship, the argument can be made that the league’s Most Valuable Player is a punter/kicker.

But Matt Araiza isn’t just any kicker, as he’s made abundantly clear while making the difference in multiple wins this year. Araiza and the Aztecs try to take control of the MWC’s West Division on Saturday night when they host Nevada in Carson, Calif.

Araiza’s footprints were literally all over last week’s 17-10 win at Hawaii. He averaged 49.6 yards on five punts, including a 79-yarder that soared over not one but two return men, and downed two punts inside the 20.

For good measure, he tacked on a 39-yard field goal with 7:41 left in the game that gave San Diego State (8-1, 4-1 MWC) a two-score lead, and boomed one kickoff so far that it struck an upright. That meant it traveled 75 yards in the air.

Little wonder that the Aztecs enjoyed an 8-yard advantage in average starting field position, no small thing when one considers how ordinary their offense has been most of the year.

“Matt again hit a punt 79 yards,” said San Diego State coach Brady Hoke. “I thought our special teams was pretty good.”

Operative word being “again.” Araiza has drilled 15 punts at least 60 yards this year and is averaging 51.9 yards per boot, nearly a yard more than the NCAA single-season record set by Texas A&M’s Braden Mann in 2018.

Araiza’s thunderous left leg is a prime reason why the Aztecs’ defense has been so stout. Opponents are frequently forced to play long fields against a good unit and simply can’t go 80 yards or more with consistency. San Diego State ranks in the top 10 nationally in several different categories, including sixth in rushing defense at 91.2 yards per game.

Meanwhile, the Wolfpack (7-2, 4-1) are aiming for their fourth straight win over the Aztecs, one that would all but clinch a spot in the MWC title game. They are coming off a 27-24 win last week over San Jose State, courtesy of Brandon Talton’s 45-yard field goal with three seconds remaining.

Nevada owns the conference’s top scoring offense at 36.4 points per game, but its defense may have made the difference last week. The Wolfpack got touchdowns from linebacker Daiyan Henley and defensive back Berdale Robins, marking the second straight game that the defense has scored twice.

“The offense was struggling in the first half and the defense just said, ‘We got you, we got you and we’re going to be fine,’” Nevada coach Jay Norvell said to the Reno Gazette Journal. “I don’t know that our team would have done that last year. This showed a lot of character, a lot of class.”

The Wolfpack have forced 18 turnovers, 10th most in FBS. But their identity remains one of a passing team, thanks to quarterback Carson Strong. He’s fourth in the country with 3,197 passing yards and is ranked 10th nationally in completion percentage at 70.5.

Despite Nevada’s recent success in head-to-head matchups, the Aztecs lead the all-time series 7-6.

–Field Level Media

Oct 15, 2021; San Jose, California, USA; San Diego State Aztecs head coach Brady Hoke walks on the field before the game against the San Jose State Spartans at CEFCU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

No. 24 San Diego State hangs on at Hawaii, 17-10

No. 24 San Diego State moved into a tie for first place in the Mountain West Conference’s West Division Saturday night, holding off Hawaii’s last drive to earn a 17-10 win in Honolulu.

The Aztecs (8-1, 4-1) gained just 227 total yards and were penalized nine times for 90 yards, but leaned on their defense and special teams to get the win. The Rainbow Warriors (4-6, 1-4) managed only 260 total yards and were held to 85 yards on the ground.

Hawaii reached the San Diego State 18-yard line on its last drive, but Chevan Cordeiro’s 5-yard pass to Dedrick Parson on third down ended inbounds. With no timeouts to stop the clock, the Rainbow Warriors weren’t able to snap the ball for fourth down before time expired.

Cordeiro completed 19 of 34 passes for 175 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Aztecs quarterback Lucas Johnson stuck mostly to short passes, hitting 12 of 16 attempts for 99 yards.

San Diego State’s only points in the second half were Matt Araiza’s 39-yard field goal with 7:41 left in the game. Hawaii got a 22-yarder from Matthew Shipley with three minutes remaining.

San Diego State initiated scoring with 6:27 left in the first quarter on a 5-yard touchdown run by Greg Bell, who gained 77 yards on 24 carries. The eight-play drive covered only 47 yards after a short Hawaii punt following a 3-and-out.

The Rainbow Warriors equalized just over four minutes later. On the first play after Johnson was strip-sacked, with Isaiah Tufaga recovering at the Aztecs’ 19, Cordeiro found Calvin Turner running free over the middle for the score.

San Diego State took the lead for good with 9:43 remaining in the first half. Araiza came on for an apparent 30-yard field goal, but holder Jack Browning instead took the snap and blew through a huge hole on the left side of the formation for a 13-yard touchdown.

The perfectly-executed fake field goal capped one of the Aztecs’ best drives of the year, a 15-play, 82-yarder that lasted 7:33.

–Field Level Media

Oct 23, 2021; Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA;  San Diego State Aztecs quarterback Lucas Johnson (7) throws a pass during the first quarter against the Air Force Falcons at Falcon Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Leyba-USA TODAY Sports

No. 22 San Diego State outlasts Air Force

No. 22 San Diego State took advantage of two early turnovers and built enough of a cushion to hold off host Air Force for a 20-14 victory on Saturday night in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The Aztecs (7-0, 3-0 Mountain West) built a 20-0 lead shortly after halftime and prevailed despite totaling only 229 yards of total offense. A Dallas Branch interception and Noah Avinger’s fumble recovery led to the first two scores.

San Diego State is off to its best start since 1975.

Air Force (6-2, 3-2) had its three-game winning streak snapped.

San Diego State, which entered the game with the top-ranked run defense in the nation (61.5 rushing yards per game) held the Falcons’ potent triple-option running attack to only 89 yards on the ground in the first half and 87 overall. Air Force entered the game averaging 336.4 rushing yards per game.

Air Force came storming back in the fourth quarter. Backup quarterback Warren Bryan led the Falcons back after starting quarterback Haaziq Daniels was knocked out of the game with an injury with 6:04 left in the third quarter.

Bryan entered and finished an 11-play, 57-yard drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Dalton King to give Air Force its first points.

After forcing a punt on its next defensive series, Air Force used another methodical drive (15 plays, 89 yards in 6:33) to cut San Diego State’s lead to 20-14 with 3:59 left on Dane Kinamon’s 3-yard touchdown on a sweep.

San Diego State again was forced to punt and totaled only 49 yards in the fourth quarter.

Aztecs punter Matt Araiza, who had an 81-yard punt earlier in the game, booted a 56-yard punt to pin Air Force back at its own 13. The Falcons appeared to convert on fourth-and-7 from their own 16 with a Bryan completion to Brandon Lewis, but a chop block penalty nullified the play.

The Falcons elected to punt with 1:57 left and two timeouts remaining.

San Diego State ran out the clock, converting a first down on a 9-yard run by Kaegun Williams. Williams and Chance Bell each scored rushing touchdowns for the Aztecs as five rushers combined for 157 yards.

–Field Level Media

Oct 15, 2021; San Jose, California, USA; San Diego State Aztecs defensive lineman Sefo Mailangi (55) tackles San Jose State Spartans running back Shamar Garrett (24) for a loss during the second quarter at CEFCU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

No. 24 SDSU pulls out double-OT win over SJSU

Backup quarterback Lucas Johnson found Jesse Matthews for a 24-yard touchdown pass in the second overtime Friday night, lifting No. 24 San Diego State to a 19-13 win over host San Jose State.

The Aztecs (6-0, 2-0 Mountain West) earlier stopped the Spartans in the second OT when Trenton Thompson intercepted Nick Nash’s pass for Derrick Deese Jr. in the end zone. On third down, Johnson and Matthews teamed up for the game-winner.

Johnson entered the game late in the fourth quarter for Jordon Brookshire, who completed 13 of 27 passes for 132 yards. Nash was 16 of 34 for 228 yards.

San Diego State was outgained 354 yards to 240 and got a great game from punter/kicker Matt Araiza. He averaged 52.9 yards on seven punts, including an 86-yarder in the third quarter, and downed five kicks inside the Spartans’ 20 while also booting two field goals.

Each team scored a touchdown in the first overtime. San Diego State got a 14-yard TD pass from Johnson to Matthews, but Tyler Nevens’ 1-yard plunge forced another overtime. It also made the Aztecs the last FBS team this year to allow a rushing touchdown.

San Jose State (3-4, 1-2) could have won the game on its last drive of regulation, but Matt Mercurio came up short on a 52-yard field goal with 15 seconds remaining.

Araiza initiated the scoring with 11:16 left in the first half, booming a 53-yard field goal one play after San Jose State was flagged for being offside. That was one of seven first-half penalties on the Spartans for 60 yards.

Mercurio converted a 32-yard field goal less than three minutes later to tie the game. Nash hit Jermaine Braddock and Deese for 29- and 37-yard gains, respectively, to set up the score.

San Diego State responded with its best sustained drive of the half, running 11 plays and reaching the Spartans’ 9. However, a third-down pass fell incomplete, and Araiza kicked a 26-yard field goal with 54 seconds remaining, giving the Aztecs a 6-3 lead at intermission.

Mercurio kicked a 48-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to tie the score.

–Field Level Media

Oct 9, 2021; Carson, California, USA; San Diego State Aztecs running back Greg Bell (22) celebrates with wide receiver Jesse Matthews (45) his touchdown scored against the New Mexico Lobos during the first half at Dignity Health Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

No. 25 San Diego St. puts clamps on Lobos, 31-7

Greg Bell ran for 111 yards and a touchdown Saturday night, and No. 25 San Diego State limited New Mexico to 193 total yards in a 31-7 win in Carson, Calif.

Quarterback Jordan Brookshire added two rushing scores for the Aztecs (5-0, 1-0 Mountain West Conference) while throwing for 130 yards on 11 of 24 accuracy. San Diego State gained just 336 total yards but was in control almost from the beginning.

The Aztecs’ defense made life difficult for quarterback Terry Wilson Jr., a Kentucky transfer who absorbed four sacks and completed 13-of-25 passes for 127 yards with an interception. The Lobos (2-4, 0-2) rushed for only 66 yards on 34 attempts.

San Diego State wasted no time putting its stamp on the game. After its defense forced a 3-and-out to start the game, Bell rushed 40 yards on the Aztecs’ first snap, then scored five plays later from the 1 for a 7-0 lead only 3:39 into the night.

Matt Araiza started the second quarter by hitting a 40-yard field goal for a 10-0 advantage. Brookshire finished off a drive of nearly 5 1/2 minutes with a 1-yard touchdown run that put San Diego State ahead by 17 at halftime.

New Mexico got back into contention briefly in the third quarter when Ray Leutele recovered a Bell fumble and rumbled 15 yards for a touchdown, cutting the Aztecs’ cushion to 17-7 at the 4:41 mark.

But San Diego State needed just over two minutes to formulate a response. Two Lobo penalties gifted it first downs and Brookshire cashed in a 45-yard field with an 11-yard run with 2:35 remaining to restore a 17-point lead.

Chance Bell capped the scoring with an 8-yard run with 13:05 left in the game, finishing off a 66-yard drive.

Aaron Dumas managed 77 yards on 11 carries for New Mexico, which hurt itself repeatedly with penalties and an inability to extend drives. The Lobos were flagged nine times for 86 yards and went just 3 of 16 on third down.

–Field Level Media

Sep 10, 2021; Boise, Idaho, USA; Boise State Broncos wide receiver Stefan Cobbs (5) returns a punt for a touchdown during the first half against the UTEP Miners at Albertsons Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

AAC targeting Boise State, UAB, others for expansion

The American Athletic Conference has identified potential candidates, most from the Mountain West, to join the league after the announced exodus of three teams to the Big 12, CBS Sports reported Thursday.

At the top of the AAC’s wish list are Mountain West programs Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State and San Diego State, along with UAB of Conference USA.

The conference is losing Cincinnati, Houston and UCF to the Big 12. Texas and Oklahoma began the chain reaction of moves with their announcement that they will join the Southeastern Conference in 2025.

The CBS report said the AAC likely will be looking to add four teams to bring the number of members to 12, with Boise State the most coveted addition based on the strength of its football program. CBS reported last week that Boise State, as well as Memphis, also could be top targets for the Big 12 should it choose to expand to 14 teams.

The AAC also has a second tier of teams it could pursue if it is spurned by any of its preferred teams, per the report. It includes FAU and UTSA from Conference USA.

BYU, an independent in football and a Mountain West member in the other sports, is joining the Big 12 in 2023, with the AAC teams expected on board by July 1, 2024.

–Field Level Media

Nov 14, 2020; Carson, California, USA; San Diego State Aztecs running back Greg Bell (34) runs the ball for a touchdown against the Hawaii Warriors  during the first half at Dignity Health Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

San Diego State running game could spell gloom for Arizona

Arizona will try to end a 13-game losing streak when it plays San Diego State in its home opener on Saturday night in Tucson, Ariz.

The Wildcats began the Jedd Fisch coaching era with a 24-16 loss to BYU in Las Vegas last weekend. The Aztecs opened with a 28-10 home victory over New Mexico State.

Fisch spouted optimism after a competitive effort against BYU but lamented multiple missed chances. Arizona crossed midfield on its final eight possessions but came away with just 14 offensive points. The Wildcats managed only six points in four red-zone trips.

“We were certainly very disappointed watching the tape in regard to some plays that we felt we left out there,” Fisch said. “By the same token, we were very encouraged, watching the tape, by some of the plays that we were able to make.”

Fisch was expected to have two quarterbacks split time, but he went with Washington State transfer Gunner Cruz almost the whole game. Will Plummer played one series in the second half.

Cruz, who made only one appearance in two seasons at WSU, directed a mostly short passing game, completing 34 of 45 passes for 336 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He was sacked four times.

Wide receiver Stanley Berryhill III set career highs in receptions (12) and receiving yards (102).

San Diego State, much like BYU (161 yards rushing), will test the Arizona defense on the ground.

The Aztecs gouged New Mexico State with 42 carries for 263 yards while completing just 6 of 19 throws from Jordon Brookshire. Greg Bell led the way on the ground with 161 yards on 21 rushes.

“Our offensive line came alive,” said Aztecs coach Brady Hoke, whose team trailed 10-0 at halftime.

Hoke is in the second season of his second tenure with the Aztecs, having gone 4-4 last season. He has an experienced team that should mirror last season’s strengths — running the ball and stopping the run.

The Aztecs, who finished second in rushing defense last season (98.2 yards per game), allowed 48 yards on 26 attempts in their 2021 opener.

Fisch said Monday that wide projected top receiver Jamarye Joiner (foot) and starting left tackle Jordan Morgan (leg) could play after missing the opener.

Arizona has won the past four meetings in the series, although the last game took place in the 2001 season.

–Field Level Media