Saturday, October 21, 2017

Tom Ables Final Blog

On Saturday, Tom attended the Boise State game. It was his 788th Aztec football game. He had been released from the hospital that afternoon, but would not be denied seeing his Aztecs. On Sunday we discussed blog content from the game the night before, as well as the upcoming Homecoming game with Fresno State. The next day he went to the hospital and passed away peacefully that morning. The Fresno game will be the first home Aztec game without Tom Ables in the stands since November 3, 1945. Here’s what he wanted to say...

All is not lost! The good news is that we are no longer in the BCS era where an undefeated season was required to get a New Year’s bowl invite. But there’s no margin for error either. One of the New Year’s bowls has to take the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion, which will most likely be from either the Mountain West or the American Athletic Conference. They have to take one of us.

I still like our chances. But we have to take care of business starting tonight against Fresno. South Florida and Central Florida are both undefeated right now. They play each other in the regular season finale, so at least one will have a loss and no chance at the ACC championship. Chances are they will each lose a game before season’s end. A 12-1 Aztec team with wins over Stanford and Arizona State should be ranked higher than a 12-1 USF or UCF. If Memphis wins out, they would also be in contention, as would Navy.

It was great to see Rashaad Penny rush for 1,000 for the second year in a row. I look for a good game from Rashaad against the Bulldogs. On to Fresno State…

Saturday’s game will be the 57th game in the series – the most versus any opponent – dating back to 1923 (Aztecs won 12-2). The Aztecs have won 29, the Bulldogs 23, and there have been 4 ties. I have been to 48 of those games; the first a 7-0 win at Aztec Bowl in 1946.

Rashaad Penny 1,000 yards, 2017 (Ernie Anderson); Miles Burris sacks Fresno QB David Carr, 2011 (Ken Ables)
 There have been some great games in the series, including the two “Fog Games” played in Aztec Bowl in the early ‘60s, the Aztecs beating the Bulldogs in Jim Sweeney’s and Pat Hill’s last games as Fresno coach. I have seen 26 of the 29 victories.

The Aztecs and Bulldogs played nearly every year through the ‘70s. After the Aztecs joined the WAC in the late ‘70s, the game became harder to schedule. The two teams did not meet at all in the ‘80s. The Bulldogs joined the WAC in 1992 and they played every year. In 1999 the Aztecs left for the MW and the teams played only two non-conference games until the Bulldogs joined the MW in 2012. The 2011 game was the debut of the Old Oil Can trophy. The Bulldogs were still in the WAC and the MW did not have a playoff game yet. After spotting Fresno a 21-0 lead, the Aztecs outscored the Bulldogs 35-7 for a 35-28 win.

Keep the Oil Can in San Diego!


(Ernie Anderson)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Great Win In Vegas – Penny Continues to Impress

I had every intention of going to the UNLV game. Flying is no longer an option for me, but road games within driving distance are still on my schedule. An unexpected trip to the hospital late Friday evening changed that plan and kept me in San Diego.

After a poignant, emotional pregame ceremony honoring the victims of the tragedy in Las Vegas earlier in the week, and a 3-3 first quarter, the Aztecs took control and dominated the final three quarters to a 41-10 victory. The Aztecs are now 2-0 in MW games, 6-0 overall and bowl eligible for the eighth consecutive season.

Rashaad Penny had another tremendous night – during and after the game. In addition to rushing for 170 yards, 2 TDs and a flattened Rebel DB, he gave one of the better post-game interviews I’ve ever seen:

Untitled Document
I’ve worked in public relations for 70 years and have seen every type of interview response imaginable. The way he turned the interviewer’s question about the Heisman into a thoughtful, sincere tribute to Las Vegas was masterful. And when he got to answering about the game, it was all about the team. Impressive young man.

Christian Chapman scored his first career rushing TD and completed 14 of 24, with 9 of the catches by Mikah Holder, back from a questionable targeting call in the NIU game. 

The hallmark of a Rocky Long-coached team is toughness, and no one personifies that more than Dakota Turner. He tore his ACL in August and played in the NIU game, a little over a month later. Against the Rebels he recorded 2 tackles and a sack.

Christian Chapman, Mikah Holder, Dakota Turner (Ernie Anderson)

The MW flagship football program is playing in San Diego on Saturday
Their opponent: Boise State. 

One thing that really annoys me is hearing broadcasters refer to the Broncos as the dominant program in the MW. That’s not true, and never has been. The dominant program is the Aztecs.

Yes, the Broncos have won some big bowl and non-conference games, but that was in the past, and most came when they were in the WAC. The Oklahoma/Statue of Liberty/proposal Fiesta Bowl win that made the Broncos famous was the 2006 season. They have not dominated the MW. Of the current MW members, no team has won more championships than the Aztecs. We have three: 2012, 2016 and 2017. Boise State has the same number of MW championships as Fresno State, and fewer championship game appearances than the Bulldogs.

The Aztecs and Broncos have only met four times – each team has won twice – but it has developed into a great rivalry. I’ll never forget our first game at Boise when Colin Lockett returned the opening kickoff for a TD and the Aztecs won 21-19. The next year, Colin did it again, catching a TD pass from Quinn Kaehler in OT to give the Aztecs a 34-31 win at the Q. The teams haven’t met since 2014 in Boise. They could have met in the MW Championship games the last two seasons, but the Broncos came up short in the Mountain Division each year. Shouldn’t the “dominant” team win at least their division each year?

Colin Lockett: Bronco Killer (Ernie Anderson)

Kickoff Saturday is 7:30, and a big crowd is expected. Marshall Faulk will be honored for his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. It’s a Code Red game – wear your red Aztec gear.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Games at UNLV No Automatic Win for Aztecs

Looking ahead to Saturday’s game at UNLV, you might be tempted to assume a win. They aren’t bad, and they are a threat. Certainly not like Stanford. They are 2-2, losing to Howard in a game they were favored by 45 points and Ohio State; and beating Idaho and San Jose State.

The Rebels are balanced on offense with an average of 305.9 rushing, and 176.0 passing, and scoring 31.5 points a game. But their defense yields 192.3 rushing; 297.5 passing and 31.5 points. They had expected more by now and there are reports Coach Tony Sanchez, now in his third season at 9-19, is on the hot seat.

Maybe a reminder of past performance there would help the Aztecs and their fans to be prepared. Big upsets and other unexpected losses. It started in 1996, when a very good Aztec team went into Vegas expecting a fairly easy win. The Aztecs were fresh from an impressive 28-24 win over nationally ranked Wyoming (16/15). Surprise! The Rebels broke loose to win 44-42 – the only loss the Aztecs suffered in the final five games of that 8-3 season.

Four other unexpected losses at UNLV in recent years include 45-13 in 2013, 28-24 in 2009, 13-10 in 2005, and 31-3 in 2001. And, yes, Rocky remembers the 2013 loss. It was his third year and the Aztecs were on a 4-game win streak, expecting a sure win to top what had been good season, right off a thrilling 34-31 OT win over Boise State.

Tariq Thompson (Ernie Anderson)
So let’s concentrate on UNLV, yes, but hard to forget the emotional win over NIU, marked sadly by the vicious injury to Rashaad Penny’s eyes. He has since been very sportsmanlike in accepting their apologies. But in the heat of the game I think it led to some penalties on angry Aztecs, plus some very questionable calls by officials. Highlights of the defense were three Aztec INTs – two of them by true Freshman DB Tariq Thompson, a local star from St. Augustine. Looking far more polished than you’d expect, Tariq took one back 83 yards for a TD, the other stopped an NIU drive, ending the game!

Most important, it was a WIN. I’m convinced they will carry over this toughness and determination – and come home 6-0, ready for a home game with Boise State. Happily, I will be there for this road game.