What happens when an unstoppable force meets a very movable object? The 21,714 in attendance at Qualcomm Stadium on Saturday night got an up close look.
The CSU Rams ran and passed all over the San Diego State Aztecs in winning 49-21, improving to 9-2 overall and 5-0 in the Mountain West Conference, thus remaining in control of their quest for a conference title.
San Diego State (3-8, 3-3 MWC) tried but could never stop CSU’s offense, which rumbled for 533 total yards — their biggest offensive explosion of the season. Time and again, the Rams put together scoring drives — be it lengthy marches or quick strikes — and appeared in sync nearly every time they held the ball.
“That’s what I call a complete game,” said CSU quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt. “It wasn’t one-dimensional. Everyone was getting involved in the game. It just felt like we’re clicking. The only thing the bye week did was help us to get healthier. When we’re a healthy team, we can destroy people.”
Van Pelt was a one-man demolition crew against the Aztecs. The junior quarterback had one of the most dominating performances of his career Saturday night. He finished with 93 rushing yards to go along with 188 passing yards. Most importantly, Van Pelt accounted for five CSU touchdowns — three passing, two rushing.
“Bradlee plays so darn hard,” said head coach Sonny Lubick. “He plays with fire in his eyes and I know that sparks our entire football team.”
Though their offensive fireworks commanded the night, it was the CSU defense that stonewalled the Aztecs and set the tone of the game from the beginning.
After the Aztecs drove to the CSU 27-yard line on their opening drive, the Ram defense stood firm, stalling the drive and forcing the Aztecs into a field goal attempt which SDSU kicker Tommy Kirovski pulled left.
From there, the CSU offense took over, marching 65 yards in nine plays and taking a 7-0 lead on Van Pelt’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Henri Childs.
Such was the formula the Rams would continue for the rest of the night — stopping the Aztec offense, steamrolling the Aztec defense, and putting points on the board. Lather, rinse, repeat.
“Defense put together a good game – hustled to the ball. We tackled well and the offense definitely put together a four-quarter game. They did really well,” said defensive tackle Peter Hogan. “The defense came out a little flat, but we came together as a unit. When it counted, we shut them down.”
The Rams looked on the verge of a blowout when a SDSU unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gave them first-and-goal at the Aztec 7-yard line and leading 14-0. But a fumbled exchange from center Mark Dreyer to Van Pelt was recovered by the Aztecs. San Diego State mounted a quick-striking drive, moving 93 yards in 2:28 and finally got on the board with a J.R. Tolver touchdown reception from SDSU quarterback Adam Hall.
At 14-6, CSU responded with a quick strike of its own, as senior wideout Joey Cuppari hauled in an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the Rams’ ensuing drive to extinguish whatever momentum San Diego State may have had.
The play was the fourth longest in Ram history and the longest since Moses Moreno threw an 80-yard score to Jeremy Calhoun in August of 1996.
Cuppari was one of 21 Rams on the gameday roster who made their homecomings to California for the third time this season. Only difference was, this trip yielded a “W.”
“It was great to get a big play and have the game I did here at home,” Cuppari said. “My family was here to see it, my buddies are here. It feels great.”
One bright spot on the game for San Diego State was the play of the senior wideout Tolver. He finished with 96 yards on 10 catches, breaking two school records in the process. The San Diego native finished the night as the record-holder for both single-season receiving yards (1,376) and career receiving yards (3,163).
“We shut (Tolver and fellow wideout Kassim Osgood) down pretty good, but you have to hand it to those guys,” said CSU cornerback Rhett Nelson. “They’re great athletes with great speed and talent. It was great to go up against those type of players.”
San Diego State suffered a setback when Hall, the leading passer in the conference, went down in the second quarter with a concussion following a hard sack and facemask penalty by CSU linebacker Drew Wood. Backup senior Lon Sheriff was forced to enter the game and, though he didn’t fare any better against CSU’s defense, finished with 228 yards and two touchdowns, earning the praise of his coach.
“I thought Lon did an admirable job,” said SDSU head coach Tom Craft. “He got thrown into the fire without a lot of work and under the circumstances, he did a great job stepping in.”
Stars of the game:
Offense: Bradlee Van Pelt, QB, CSU
Van Pelt was simply unstoppable. When the junior wasn’t running over the Aztecs for 93 yards and two touchdowns, he was passing over and around them for 188 yards and three touchdowns.
Defense: Peter Hogan, DE, CSU
Hogan led the way for a solid team defensive effort. The senior from Newport Beach, Calif., had only four tackles, but two of those were for a loss and one was a sack.
Special Teams: Brian Simnjanovski, P, SDSU
The San Diego State punter was on the field early and often. Of his six punts, only two found their way into the hands of dangerous CSU return man Dexter Wynn, making him one of the few bright spots on what, otherwise, was a night to forget for the Aztecs.