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UTEP Thwarts Aztec Comeback, 34-27;
CFF meets #1 Aztec Fan!
San Diego, CA – In the 2006 season opener for UTEP, San Diego State, and CollegeFootballFan.com, the UTEP Miners built a 27-3 lead midway into Q3 before substitute QB Darren Mougey led SDSU back to a 27-24 deficit for an exciting finish before succumbing, 34-27, as their onside kick attempt failed with 1:59 remaining in the game to seal the final outcome. CFF not only saw a good game to start our season, but we had the honor and privilege of sitting with San Diego State’s #1 fan, Tom Ables, who was attending his 646th Aztec game! We had a great time exchanging stories with him and rooting for his Aztecs!
Both teams got off to slow starts before UTEP dominated in what seemed to be brewing as a cakewalk for the Miners. However, Mougey’s sudden entry into the game to replace injured starter Kevin O’Connell sparked some life into the Aztec offense. The Aztecs defense also took advantage of UTEP QB Jordan Palmer’s “soft-touch” passes. He has a penchant for lofting high, arching throws more often than not making him susceptible to get picked off which SDSU did four times. One of his goals this season was to cut down on the 19 thrown last year, but he’s already well ahead of pace to exceed that mark!
After UTEP failed to convert a 35-yard FG in its opening series, SDSU took the lead on its first possession with a 46-yard FG by PK Garret Palmer. QB Kevin O’Connell was key in getting his team into position with two runs totaling 40 yards. He runs well for a 6’6” drop-back QB. The Aztecs threatened again on their next possession, but Garret missed to the left on a long 52-yard attempt. DB Donny Baker then made a leaping INT near the sideline for State which was challenged for review by UTEP Head Coach Mike Price. It went for naught. The SDSU offense took over at its own 41 and started to drive before the first quarter ended with the Aztecs leading, 3-0.
State came up empty off the turnover as Garret’s next attempt from the 47 also went wide left. UTEP responded quickly as a 42-yard pass from Jordan Palmer to Johnnie Lee Higgins (6 catches, 82 yards, 1 TD) and a roughing the passer call put UTEP on the Aztec 13. Palmer faked option right and turned to roll left to connect with TE Jamar Hunt for a 13-yard TD pass to take a lead of 7-3 with Reagen Schneider’s kick. UTEP’s defense was inspired as well as they sacked O’Connell on two consecutive plays to force an SDSU punt from the 17-yard line. Things started to unravel a little more for the Aztec kicking game as Mike Hughes shanked his punt to the left sideline for 19 yards. Palmer sat out two plays as his sub QB optioned the Miners down to the San Diego 5. RB Marcus Thomas, held to 24 yards on 17 carries by SDSU, made a classic buck and spin move into the end zone for a 5-yard TD run to extend the UTEP lead, 14-3. After UTEP LB Troy Cavallo stopped SDSU on a third and one attempt from their own 46, Hughes shanked his next punt 16 yards to the right putting UTEP on its own 39 for good field position. Tom was surprised at his team’s kicking problems because both Hughes and Palmer had both improved immensely last season. The Aztec defense rose to the occasion to halt a UTEP conversion on third and one to also force a punt before time expired to end the half with the Miners in the lead, 14-3.
During halftime, we conversed with Tom about some of the stadiums we’d like to attend to see games in the future, and Tom provided us with some insight to the ones he’d been to. Wisconsin’s Camp Randall – “You’ll love it! Great atmosphere!” Ohio State’s Ohio stadium – “Loved the stadium and the fans there.” He said when SDSU left the field there two years ago after a close 16-13 loss, the Buckeye fans gave his Aztecs a standing ovation. The Big House at Michigan – very unimpressed. “It’s big, but it’s like a high school field,” he said. His wife, Nancy, veteran of 411 games as of this date, says that the one place she will not go to is Laramie, Wyoming. “Too cold!” she says. Tom told the story of how the Aztecs almost didn’t make it to the game there in October 6 (!) 1984 because the team had to travel through a major snow storm. Wyoming was pushing for a no-show forfeit while the Aztecs were enroute. SDSU showed up an hour late and went on to beat the Cowboys, 21-0, in the snow. More on Tom in “Extra Points” below.
Tyler Campbell, son of Earl as pointed out by Tom, returned the ball for SDSU to start the second half from the 28. However, the Aztec possession was short-lived as UTEP DB Quinton Demps picked off an O’Connell pass to set the Miners up at the Aztec 41. Demps must have run 100 yards sideline to sideline before O’Connell took him down himself. Palmer then hooked up with Higgins for a 21-yard pass play, and then he hooked up with him again two plays later on an eleven-yard TD pass as Higgins caught the ball and dove over the goal line with the ball just inside the pylon as he fell out of bounds. The extra point failed and the Miners led, 20-3. The Aztec’s next possession started from their own 22, and they got pushed back from there. O’Connell fumbled the ball into his own end zone where it was recovered by UTEP DL Alfonso Auelina for another Miner TD. With 8:29 left in Q3, UTEP was in command with a 27-3 lead. Things looked dismal for Tom Ables’s Aztecs. The crowded SDSU student section started to thin out. Soph QB Darren Mougey started the next offensive series for SDSU from his own 20. Not until a few plays into the series did Tom point out that starter Kevin O’Connell was leaving Qualcomm Stadium holding his right hand. Mougey was now the man, and how! Calling audibles after looking to the sideline on almost every play, the 6’6” Soph who passed and ran as well as O’Connell, drove his team 80 yards, taking it in for six from the one on an option play left on a third and goal. Garrett Palmer’s conversions sliced the UTEP lead to 27-10. But wait! 5’9” DB Donny Baker out-jumped a taller UTEP WR again, tipping the ball up, intercepting, and coming down with his foot just inbounds again. The refs reviewed, and the play stood. SDSU was in business again from their own 38. A middle screen to RB Lynell Hamilton got the Aztecs to the UTEP 26. Q3 ended with SDSU on the 14 trailing the Miners, 27-10.
Four seconds into the final period, Mougey ran the option up the middle barreling over and through two UTEP defenders for a 14-yard TD run. Down only 27-17, the Aztecs, with Mougey under center, were making a formerly lopsided game very interesting. UTEP players not only started looking tired to us, but the momentum was shifting to the other sideline. Tom pointed out, “It looks like Mougey wants the job!” The Aztec defense rose up again. After a 5-yard sack of UTEP at the Miner 21, safety Ray Bass picked off one of Palmers soft passes after a tip, and got the ball back in Mougey’s hands at the UTEP 26. The offense aptly moved the ball to the 3 where on first and goal Mougey’s fumbled was recovered by OT Robert Nelson. On third down, RB Hamilton (20 rushes/40 yards) took it over on a one-yard plunge to narrow UTEP’s lead, 27-24. Once again, Palmer floated a pass on the subsequent series that got picked by safety T.J. McKay. On this drive starting from the 23, Mougey used his last time-out with 7:39 left. One substitution mistake and Mougey’s inexperience left Chuck Long’s team with little control of the clock for the balance of the game. On a subsequent play, Mougey blundered as he mistimed a pass to a temporarily wide-open TE Matt Kawulok to be instead picked off by Quinton Demps for his second INT of the day. He returned this one 23 yards to the SDSU 28. Two plays later, the Miners were at the five. Palmer started right and rolled left, and just like his first TD pass, found a TE, this time Jake Spears, for a 7-yard scoring pass. With 4:38 remaining, the Miners were up, 34-24. There was no quit in these Aztecs, however. Starting the next drive from his own 18, Mougey completed four straight passes to get to the UTEP 10. The UTEP D strengthened and sacked him forcing the Aztecs to settle for Garrett Palmer’s 34-yard FG. With 1:59 left in the game, The Aztecs settled for the three points to trail, 34-27, with the hopes of recovering an onsides kick. The ball went out of bounds, however, short of ten yards, and the Miners took over. The suspense didn’t end there though as Coach Mike Price decided to hand off to a runner three times rather than take a knee to avoid risking a fumble back to the Aztecs. “Didn’t he ever hear of The Miracle at the Meadowlands?” I said to Tom. He smiled, “ Herman Edwards played for San Diego State!” There was no miracle at Qualcomm today as time expired. SDSU fans told me they often have to look for a silver lining. Tom Ables said that he was proud that his team never quit. We think he has every right to feel that way!
SDSU and Tom travel to Wisconsin in two weeks to face the Badgers. SDSU’s defense looks stout and Mougey looks effective, but the Aztecs need to find a running game. The kicking game, especially punting, needs to rebuild some confidence. UTEP goes home to host pass-happy Texas Tech. If UTEP intends to compete, Palmer’s going to have to put some “zip” on his passes. If not, he’s going to be even more on pace to surpass the 19 INTs he threw last year. The Miners need to find their running game, too! We head to Colorado to see the Buffalos go at it with rival Colorado State as we need to see if the Buffs can rebound from their 19-10 loss to 1-AA Montana State! We also get to meet Ralphie the Golden Buffalo.
Extra Points: Guest Game Analyst Chris Koreivo, my brother who resides in Long Beach, CA, was a little miffed when he noted that the UTEP team didn’t take the field until after the national anthem was played. Last time we looked, El Paso, Texas was still an American city. We hope that the Miners won’t let that happen again.
O’Connell and Mougey combined for 275 yards passing for the Aztecs on 24 completions on 29 passes. Mougey was more apt to throw down field (178 yards). Jordan Palmer was 19 of 28 for 205 yards and 3 TDs, but those 4 INTs! The difference maker in this game seems to be DL Alfonso Auelina’s sack of O’Connell and recovery of the fumble in the end zone to widen UTEP’s lead to 27-7. However, he also knocked O’Connell out of the game which brought in Mougey. This was the play of the game for CFF.
Denny Fallon, an official of the SDSU Alumni Association and rabid Aztec fan stopped by to greet us with Tom and presented us with “vintage” Aztec sportswear. The baseball cap not only has the old logo, it even has “WAC” on the side. The Aztecs are now in the Mountain West Conference. Shirts have the face of “Monty”, as in Montezuma, the Aztec chieftain. I asked Tom how SDSU selected Aztecs as a mascot. He could only shrug. If anyone would know, we figure it has to be Tom! Here’s my stretch – San Diego is home to the Pacific Fleet and the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton nearby. San Diego – Marine Corps – “Halls of Montezuma” – Aztecs? Maybe there’s something to it. Until someone tells us otherwise, we feel this guess is as good as any!
We’ve seen coaching legends like Paul “Bear” Bryant, Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden, and Harold “Tubby” Raymond. Tom has seen a legend even further back. In one of his early games covering SDSU, he saw his team play the University of the Pacific coached by none other then Amos Alonzo Stagg. Our only connection before then was that the alma mater, Juniata College, played in the first Stagg Bowl! The QB for Pacific that day was Eddie LeBaron. Talk about a great connection to college football history!
Tom still writes articles for the program Aztec Game Day. Under “Looking Back” in this game’s edition, he gives a history of all the Head Coaching debuts at San Diego State. In an editor’s note, it states Tom has seen 645 games in 61 seasons. He missed a trip to Cal Poly in 1964, but has been to 475 Aztec games in a row since! He also missed the 1951 trek to the Pineapple Bowl in Hawaii (noted in the article) because as he told me, he couldn’t afford it. His wife, Nancy, has seen 410 with him, and his son, Ken, who we also met, had seen 312 until Thursday night. Tom is an Honorary member of the Aztec Athletic Hall of Fame which includes other people of note including Marshall Faulk, Joe Gibbs, Fred Dryer, Graig Nettles, Tony Gwynn, and Art Linkletter, who played basketball and swam for SDSU as well from 1932-34! When SDSU won the D-II national title under Don Coryell back in the 1960’s, the team was belatedly awarded championship rings years later. Tom was honored with one as well, and was proud to show it to us!
Tom and the San Diego Union-Tribune of Friday, September 1, both noted the strong support at this game from SDSU’s student body. Tom said that Head Coach Chuck Long won over a lot of students by sitting in the student section last season at Aztec basketball games! Great idea!
Attendance at Qualcomm’s Jack Murphy Field was announced at 34,723. As a NY Mets fans, we know Jack was a San Diego newsman responsible for helping bring MLB to San Diego and that he was the brother of the late Bob Murphy, the long-time Mets announcer famous for his “happy recaps.” We also remember Bob as the voice of a college football highlight show on Sunday mornings on ABC in the early 70’s – way before the advent of ESPN saturation. The show would highlight five or six games from the day before with fight songs as background music and Bob doing the narration. We loved that show!
Dixieline Lumber and Home Centers contributes $1,000 to inner city sports programs in San Diego for every TD that the Aztecs score this year. Tom worked for them 60 years ago making $.35/ hour. He moved on to cover the Aztecs for $.75/hour.
The black SDSU uniforms are great and reminiscent of our old uniforms at my alma mater Boonton (N.J.) High School. We wish we could have had the red helmets like the Aztecs instead of the plain white ones we wore. We used to admire them also when watching late games on ESPN when Marshall Faulk was playing for the Aztecs.
We have to check our records, but we’re sure we saw Chuck Long play QB for Iowa in 1984 when we made the trip to Iowa City to see them host PSU before the Lions joined the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions won that day at Kinnick Stadium, 20-17.
Unbelievable for a first game – UTEP had 0 penalties for 0 yards! SDSU controlled the ball for 37:32 to UTEP’s 22:28. Before tonight, Mougey was working out as a WR to utilize his athletic capability. Now, SDSU has a QB controversy if O’Connell is healthy.
Bonus Game : UCLA Air Attack Ground Utes, 31-10
Pasadena, CA – In our bonus left coast game, UCLA QB Ben Olsen competed 25 of 33 passes for 318 yards and three TDs to fire a young Bruin offensive unit past the visiting Utes of Utah, 31-10. Utah came in with an experienced secondary and some holes to fill on the defensive front, but Olsen effectively found wide open receivers in the secondary while the Ute line held UCLA to 107 yards on 41 carries. Guest Game Analysts included Jill Koreivo (UCLA grad), Chris Koreivo and their kids Emily and Nick. It was the first UCLA game for the kids. We all survived it under a scorching sun in the South end zone of the Rose Bowl.
On the first possession of the game, UCLA moved the ball 79 yards on nine plays in its first series to pay-dirt as Olsen threw his first scoring strike to Soph TE Ryan Moya from 16 yards out. PK Justin Medlock made the score 7-0 with his conversion. The drive looked easy, and Utah almost retaliated on its first possession, but a 30-yard TD pass was nullified and the Utes were forced to punt at the UCLA 46. P/PK Louie Sakoda placed a punt perfectly out of bounds at the Bruin three. Olsen quickly improved the poor field position with a 15-yard completion. The drive culminated in a missed 46-yard FG, and the first period ended with UCLA leading, 7-0.
In Q2, Utah’s All-America Safety Eric Weddle displayed some of his versatility. On a fourth and one from his own 41, he lined up at QB in the shotgun and went off tackle for a 5-yard gain to get the first down. QB Brett Ratliff came in and on his third completion of the series, fired a 26-yard TD pass to WR Brent Casteel on the left side of the end zone. Sakoda’s kick, placed by Weddle, knotted the score, 7-7. The teams exchanged punts. Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham decided to give second team QB Tommy Grady some plays. Grady, a transfer form Oklahoma, completed his first attempt, but his second pass was cleanly picked and returned 34 yards down the left sideline for a UCLA TD by Frosh CB Alterraun Werner. The strategy to pick on the inexperienced CB backfired to give UCLA a 14-7 lead. Grady never re-entered the game. On Utah’s next series, with Ratliff back in, the Utes went right after Werner again. On one pass play, he was beaten for 34 yards. The Utes, however, could only come up with three points on Sakoda’s 44-yard FG to close the UCLA lead, 14-10. The teams went into the locker-rooms with that score.
The visiting Utes band performed during the half. This was our second Utah game in two years as we spanned the country to see them play in Chapel Hill, NC and now in Pasadena, CA. This was our second UCLA game at the Rose Bowl. The last was in 2001, when we saw DeShaun Foster run for 301 yards and 4 TDs in a victory over the Washington Huskies. Jill reminisced about her coed days at UCLA cheering for the Bruins as part of the student body cheering section. She remembers the two old guys we saw here today running around leading the various sections in cheers. She watched the Bruins play in the Coliseum during her school days.
Olsen started his first series in the second half just as he had done in the first. A 46-yard pass to Soph TE Logan Paulsen got the Bruins to the Ute 15. Olsen followed with a 19-yard scoring pass to WR Matt Willis on a crossing pattern into the end zone to extend the Bruins’ lead, 21-10. The Utes got great field position to the 46 on a reverse pitch on the kickoff from Brent Casteel to Derreck Richards. They moved down field to attempt another FG, but Weddle let the ball slip through his hands on an apparent fake pass play. He recovered the ball to attempt an incomplete pass, and the Bruins took over on their own 20. UCLA held the lead at the end of the third, 21-10.
Two minutes and six seconds into the last period, PK Justin Medlock put up a 25-yard FG for a 24-10 Bruin lead. UCLA held Utah to four yards and a punt on the next series. From their own 32, the Bruins drove the length of the field, ending with an eight-yard spot pass from Olsen to a leaping WR Marcus Everett with 7:41 remaining in the game. The conversion was good for a 31-10 lead which stood until the final gun sounded in the season opener for both teams. Olsen, who had not started at QB in five years, looks ready to lead the Bruins to a winning season this year despite some key losses to graduation.
UCLA next hosts Rice, who surprisingly challenged Houston in a 31-30 loss on Saturday. The game time is 7 pm which makes more sense than playing in the hot sun at 4 pm like this past game. CSTV established the time for this one. UCLA has a good shot at cleaning up in their next four games (Rice, at Washington, Stanford, and Arizona) before traveling to Oregon for their most difficult test at that point. The Utes go back to Salt Lake City to play North Arizona, losers to Arizona State in their opener. Utah will play intrastate rival Utah State after NAU, and then returns to southern California to face Tom Able’s Aztecs in their first Mountain West Conference game on September 23. Both teams will have to work on balancing their offensive attacks before knocking heads at Qualcomm.
Extra Points: If my brother was miffed at the first game, he had more reason to be in the second. Neither team was on the field during the National Anthem. Call us old-fashioned, but there are a bunch of guys the same age as these players playing a little bit more than a football game over in Iraq and Afghanistan. They should be out on the field in their honor before the game to stand for the Star Spangled Banner.
Both punters were impressive – Sakoda for the Utes and Aaron Perez for UCLA. On a warm day with a high sky, they averaged 42.7 and 42.8 respectively, with Sakoda’s average skewed by a beautiful coffin corner kick to out the Bruins on their own three. PR man Eric Weddle was held to -2 return yards by the Bruins. Let’s see how these guys will perform in inclement weather though, too.
Oh, brother! We’ve seen teams in the past with pairs of brothers as teammates, but UCLA is the first we remember seeing with three! The Moline brothers – LB Chad, RB Chane, and DT Chase (appropriate) – JR, Frosh , and Soph respectively. Chane had 17 yards on 7 carries.
On a UCLA drive in Q3, there was a questionable call reviewed to determine if the receiver’s foot was inbounds of not on a catch. Called from the booth, it must have taken4 or 5 minutes to review. Too long! The replay looked pretty evident that his foot was on the white line. It shouldn’t have take so long.
GGA Nick Koreivo recognized the UCLA fight song. His middle schools band teacher in Long Beach, a UCLA grad, has the band play it loud so that a certain Bruin detractor on the faculty staff will hear it down in the gym! GGA Emily had some friends come over from the Long Beach Wilson football team sitting on the opposite end of the stadium from us for a visit. The boys were considered USC fans by people in the crowd because their team jerseys are the same colors as the hated Trojans!
Attendance was announced at 59,709. UCLA’s honorary captain was former FS James Washington who played in three Super Bowls for the Dallas Cowboys.