Fresno State senior running back Marteze Waller gets tackled by Colorado State defender during Saturday night’s season finale against the Rams at Bulldog Stadium. (Darlene Wendels/The Collegian)
Fresno State has struggled in several areas this season and a new weakness was unveiled in Saturday night’s 34-31 season-finale loss to Colorado State – tackling on special teams.
The Rams’ special teams dominated, scoring their first three touchdowns on returns. Senior Joe Hansley took punt returns of 75 and 61 yards to the house in the first half, while sophomore Kevin Nutt Jr. returned the second-half kickoff 96 yards to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 24-20.
The coverage was there, but CSU’s elusive return duo simply made defenders miss. Even though the ‘Dogs had their hands on them, they kept their feet moving to break tackles and keep the plays alive.
“In the two punts, we had multiple guys at the point of attack,” Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter said. “We’ve got to finish and make the tackle. Hansley has made a lot of guys miss. Give him credit, he’s a good football player. He’s one of the best return guys in the conference. It’s him making some guys miss, and they had some guys blocked.
“Then on the kickoff return, it was the same thing. We had guys hit [Nutt] and bounce off. We have to be able to finish.”
The ‘Dogs built a 24-7 lead behind their ground game before the Rams went on a 20-0 run to take a 27-24 lead late in the third quarter after a 39-yard touchdown run by running back Izzy Matthews.
Following the third-quarter drought, the Bulldog offense engineered an 8-play, 76-yard drive resulting in a 2-yard touchdown run from senior running back Marteze Waller to take a 31-27 lead early in the fourth.
Hansley came to the rescue for the Rams one final time and completed a hat trick with a 24-yard touchdown catch to snatch the lead right back at 34-31 with 10:03 left in the ballgame.
The Fresno State offense, which failed to generate anything from there on out, punted the ball with about five minutes to go and never saw a possession again as the Rams ran the clock out.
“I thought that when we got stopped, we could’ve pinned them down there,” DeRuyter said. “But they hit a couple runs on us and sealed it.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Kilton Anderson earned the start and played the entire game after DeRuyter had opened up the position for competition earlier in the week.
Anderson completed 19-of-33 passes for 182 yards and added another 40 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
“It’s great to [get the] start, but it was a tough loss,” Anderson said. “Personally, it’s tough just to let these seniors go out this way, but I think that we took a big step forward tonight. I think that on both sides of the ball we played very fast, physical and fanatical, and that’s our three things. When all those things come together, I think we can have a great team, and I look forward to next year.”
Waller was one of 18 seniors honored on Saturday at part of Senior Night and in his final game as a Bulldog, he carried the ball 27 times for 112 yards and a touchdown.
On Sunday, the team held its Senior Banquet, in which players were recognized for their efforts.
Waller was named the team’s offensive MVP; senior outside linebacker Ejiro Ederaine earned the defensive MVP award; and senior punter Garrett Swanson was awarded the special teams MVP honor.