San Diego State’s game against Washington State on Saturday afternoon had all the makings of the dreaded “trap game.”
SDSU was coming off of a sloppy win against Army on an emotional Sept. 11 weekend in New York, was facing a WSU team that despite finishing with a combined 3-21 record the past two seasons entered the game undefeated, and has arguably the most hyped matchup in school history next week when the Aztecs travel to Ann Arbor to take on former head coach Brady Hoke and the Wolverines at the Big House.
SDSU fans also held their breath after the Cougars (2-1), who had put up 64 points in their season opener and 59 seven days later, scored on an 80-yard bomb on their first possession of the afternoon to take a 7-0 lead.
But as shaky as SDSU started, it could not have finished any better. The Aztecs (3-0) scored 28 unanswered points in the second half to turn a 24-14 WSU lead into a 42-24 SDSU win in front of a record-breaking 57,286 fans at Qualcomm Stadium on SkyShow night.
With the win, the Aztecs broke a streak of 23 straight losses to a BCS conference team and 19 straight L’s against the Pac-10/Pac-12 Conference.
How big was this come-from-behind victory for SDSU?
“I’d say it’s probably the greatest win since I’ve been here,” senior quarterback Ryan Lindley, who threw for 273 yards and two touchdowns, said after the game. “The way we came back, that’s tough. It takes a team with will and a team with heart to come back and play the way they did, especially when the defense got the ball. They really hunkered down the second half. It was a great team effort.”
The star of the night was sophomore running back Ronnie Hillman, who ran around, through and at times right over the Cougar defense for 191 yards and four scores. With his performance on Saturday, Hillman leads the nation with 497 rushing yards, has eight total touchdowns in three games and is getting early season hype as a potential Heisman candidate.
“We all know that he can jump sideways, make people miss and outrun people,” head coach Rocky Long said. “But what you saw tonight was when he was corralled in there, he brought his shoulders and helmet down and moved the piles forward … To me, because I see him make us miss every day in practice, he showed power today that he didn’t have last year and that was impressive.”
Up by 10 with 12 minutes left in the third quarter, the Cougars forced an SDSU three-and-out and Brian Stahovich came in to punt. On the play, however, WSU was flagged for roughing the kicker, giving the Aztecs 15 free yards and a first down. Minutes later Lindley found sophomore tight end Gavin Escobar for a 25-yard touchdown pass.
With the defense shutting down the Cougars’ spread attack — allowing only seven points in the second half — Hillman rumbled for two touchdown runs (including one that went for 59 yards) and Lindley hit Escobar for another score in the closing minutes to make the final score 42-24.
Long said the second half comeback may not have been possible without the help of the record-breaking crowd.