San Diego State’s offense, after a quiet half, secured a 28-20 win over UNLV late Friday, to keep their path to the Mountain West championship game clear.
The heavily favored Aztecs built a 21-10 advantage by halftime, but UNLV (2-9, 2-5, MW) pushed back hard in the 3rd quarter, cutting the lead to one.
Lucas Johnson though finally reconnected with his favored target of the night, Jesse Matthews, for SDSU’s only score in the second half, with 3:33 to go in the 4th quarter.
Seyddrick Lakalaka then intercepted a pass from Rebel quarterback Justin Rogers with 1:45 left in the game, but it was a controversial play that could have been nullified due to a missed offsides call on San Diego State.
So SDSU (10-1, 6-1), with a sigh of relief, remains in the driver’s seat in the conference’s West division race, with Fresno State (8-3, 5-2) just behind, in advance of the Dec. 4 MW championship game.
Nevada (7-4, 4-3 MW) also gave the Aztecs more MW breathing room, falling to Air Force in triple overtime, 41-39.
Nonetheless, head coach Brady Hoke was dismayed by aspects of his team’s performance Friday, especially the 394 yards they gave up to UNLV’s offense.
The work for this week he said is to “see if we can get back on track a little bit, and more defensively than offensively,” he said.
After an early field goal by the Rebels, Andrew Aleki put San Diego State on the board with a touchdown following an interception by quarterback Cameron Friel.
The Aztecs scored added two more touchdowns in the 2nd quarter, on Johnson passes to Matthews – 4 yards and 24 yards each.
But the Rebels frustrated San Diego State’s offense for most of the second half, and Rogers, subbing for an injured Friel, presented a major challenge for SDSU’s defense, on 15-for-21 passing for 305 yards.
That’s why Hoke decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 in the 4th quarter rather than turning to Matt Araiza for a field-goal attempt and a four-point lead. With the Rebels’ eating up yardage, he conceded “I really didn’t know if we could spot them.”
The gamble paid off three plays later when Johnson threw a 7-yard pass to Matthews for the touchdown.
“We were going to go down in a fight with them,” Hoke said.
The Aztecs close out the regular season in a 9 a.m. home game Friday against Boise State at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, the team’s temporary home during Mission Valley stadium construction.
Boise State (6-4, 4-2 MW) plays New Mexico Saturday.