Coming to a triumphant ending, the Bulldogs finished their miraculous season with a piece of the Mountain West Conference championship.
Defeating Air Force Academy handily 48-15, Fresno Sate won its first conference championship since 1999 Saturday in front of an announced attendance of 36,240.
“I’m very proud of what they have accomplished in the entire season, but especially today in a good Air Force team. I’m just happy to win a Mountain West Conference championship for these seniors,” head coach Tim DeRuyter said.
Powered by another offensive performance, the Bulldogs outgained the Falcons in every aspect of the game and placed an exclamation point on their 2012 season.
Fresno State continued its success at home as it held a 21-point lead over Air Force at the end of the first quarter. This dominant play in Bulldog Stadium was just one of many reasons why the ’Dogs have had such an incredible season not only at home, but on the road as well.
Defense also played a huge part in Fresno State’s success during the season. With the defense collecting 33 turnovers on the season, including three in the win against Air Force, the ’Dogs more than tripled their takeaway production from last season.
However, this remarkable story has to be told from the beginning of the season.
The success the ’Dogs found could not have happened without the aid of former coach Pat Hill, who built the Fresno State football program to what it currently is.
“This is also for coach Hill; let’s not forget that. He brought us here. He put these guys together,” quarterback Derek Carr said.
In the many years that Hill coached, his mantra of “anybody, anywhere, anytime,” has resonated with the veteran players on the team.
DeRuyter was able to walk into Fresno State athletics last spring and change the Bulldogs’ entire team. The offense, defense and coaching staff have bought into DeRuyter’s system, which has culminated into an amazing season.
“I think (Fresno State athletic director) Thomas (Boeh) made that clear when he was going through the interview process – that we need a football program that competes for championships. And from Day One that’s been our focus,” DeRuyter said. “I felt that we had a group, if we could get them to buy in, that had enough talent, we could compete for a conference championship.”
At different times during the season, the Bulldogs were presented with rocky ground. Their first lost of the season, coming on the road to Oregon, was frustrating. This matchup highlighted a tail of two halves. And the ’Dogs could have come away with a win if they had played four full quarters.
Yet, Fresno State stayed its course and was resilient in winning against Colorado and San Diego State at home. Both were momentum builders for the ’Dogs. Fresno State could have fallen apart after its disappointing loss to Boise State in Broncos Stadium.
However, the Bulldogs summoned strength and persevered on their way to winning the rest of their games.
The game against New Mexico on the road was probably the biggest reflection of character as Fresno State went down 21 points in the first quarter. But the ’Dogs were able to rally and beat the Lobos as they overcame a first-half deficit.
“To be honest with you, it might have been when we were down 21 to nothing against New Mexico. Nobody on our squad pointed fingers,” DeRuyter said. “We had a look of resolve that we were going to get things done. And to do that on the road and win convincingly after being down big, I think gave our guys tremendous confidence.”
In a season when both the offense and defense were completely transformed, the veteran leadership of senior running back Robbie Rouse shone brightly.
“I’m just a competitor and I try to compete at all levels and be the best at what I do,” Rouse said. “We’re all that we got out here. We got great support from the fans since I got here and I’m just going to miss walking down that ramp.”
His performance in almost every game embodied the spirit and heart of Fresno State. Rouse’s character and playing ability especially in the matchup against Nevada on the road, help lead the Bulldogs to a conference championship
“Just knowing the type of guy Robbie is, he’s an amazing back. But more than what he does on the field, he’s just an incredible vocal leader making sure that we’re mentally ready during practice and in the games,” receiver Davante Adams said. “When you have a guy like that, he’s so versatile on the field as well as off the field.”
On Senior Appreciation Day, the ’Dogs won another home game in convincing fashion and assured themselves a share of the Mountain West Conference championship. Fresno State completed its season the way DeRuyter had intended to do so when he took office as head coach of the Bulldogs.
“I’m very proud of 22 exceptional seniors and a staff that came together a year ago, who hadn’t work together as a unit,” DeRuyter said. “I’m just really happy for our guys and our staff and all the hard work that they put in. And to see it come to fruition and get a championship, it’s a nice feeling.”
Linebacker Travis Brown said, “We have been striving for this for a long time now, and I can’t explain how big it means. It means a lot just for this team and the community. They’ve been wanting it and we’ve been wanting it. So it’s a big deal.”