Sunday, August 31, 2014

Aztecs Off to a Winning Start!

Dedicated to not repeating their 2013 opener, the Aztecs won last night’s game with the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, 38-7. A good platform to build on as they aim to play in their fifth straight bowl game at the end of this season.

Among the positive signs from this victory was the balanced offense, with big assists from special teams. No surprise, Donnel Pumphrey can run the ball! And the 31 yards he gained with one pass reception were just a hint of ways Bob Toledo will capitalize on DJ’s talent.

Donnel Pumphrey gained 111 yards rushing and had 31 yards receiving vs. Northern Arizona
(photo by Ken Ables)
Quinn Kaehler hit 18 of 29 passes (62%) with one TD and one INT. Both Ezell Ruffin and Eric Judge looked good.

But maybe the most promising plays came from special teams. Donny Hageman hit a 48-yard FG right down the middle and was 5 for 5 on PATs. Lloyd Mills showed his speed and elusiveness with 67-yard punt return for a TD. And Calvin Munson showed determination in almost scoring with his 64-yard INT return.

Donny Hageman was 6-7 on field goals and extra points (photo by Ken Ables)
This early in the year, with some key injuries still plaguing them, there are areas that clearly need work. The defense played well overall, but went soft in the third quarter with poor tackling, and the secondary allowed some pass completions that were scary. On offense, the passing game was OK, but a combination of drops and poorly thrown passes kept it from being what it needs to be against teams like next week’s opponent, North Carolina.

Isn’t it nice to be so critical after a 38-7 win?

A disappointing crowd of only 30,761 (maybe) turned out. Sad. This team deserves more support than that – from the student body and from the community. We need to create the same atmosphere Aztec basketball enjoys at Viejas. Problem is, the Q is just too big.

Now the Aztecs have to gear up for a road trip to North Carolina for the second game ever against the Tar Heels, who won their opener against Liberty, 56-29. They have been improving year by year, and are ranked #23 in the AP poll, so this game will be a major challenge and will serve as an indicator of how much progress the Aztecs have made.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

NAU Game Sends Up Warning Flag

When you hear the name of the Aztecs’ opponent in tonight’s season opener – Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks – it may not sound too ominous. They are FCS level, right? But so was Eastern Illinois last year. You remember that one, don’t you? So, beware!

You can bet Rocky Long remembers. And every returning player from that 2013 Aztec team remembers. If they could get off to an 0-3 start and still wind up 8-5, capped by an impressive win in a bowl game, think what a fast start could lead to.

Without rattling off reams of stats, suffice it to say the Lumberjacks are good. They wound up #25 in the FCS ratings last year, and they have won 17 of their last 22 games.

There’s not a lot of history here. We have played them only twice – almost half a century ago, in 1965 and 1966 – and beat them twice. It was the game in Flagstaff in ’65 that my son Ken has convinced me was really when I became serious about a streak. Because the team was traveling by train my original plan was to drive, sharing the driving with a guy from my office, and do the turnaround trip with no overnight stay. Turned out he could not go, so I drove almost exactly 1,000 miles, sandwiched around the game, which we won, 20-0. It was my 186th game, and the 16th since the road game I missed in 1964. Have not missed one since, and my streak is at 574, with a total of 744 games. From that point on, Don Coryell always referred to me as “that crazy Aztec fan.” Probably right, but now I’m glad I did it.

WR Craig Scoggins (left) and DB Bobby Howard led the Aztecs to a 16-8 victory over Northern Arizona in 1966. It was the Aztecs’ ninth win on the way to a perfect 11-0 season. (Photos courtesy of San Diego State)
 GO AZTECS!  Beat the Lumberjacks!