In the first game following Tim DeRuyter’s firing as head coach, the Fresno State Bulldogs fought hard and put together what was arguably their most competitive game of the season, but still came up short against the Air Force Falcons, 31-21.
Interim head coach Eric Kiesau coached his first-ever game as a head coach and was proud of how the team played despite the loss on Friday at Bulldog Stadium. Fresno State is now 1-8.
“I’ll give a lot of credit to our players,” Kiesau said. “I thought they played extremely hard. I’m really proud of their effort and how they played tonight. We just came up short.”
Although the game ended in a loss, Kiesau said he felt good about his team and with his first experience in charge.
“I never really got overwhelmed or thought it was out of my hands,” Kiesau said. “With the decision making, even balancing the play calling and talking to the defense and the special teams guys, I thought it went fairly smooth.”
Quarterback Chason Virgil had a rough game, throwing four interceptions. Two of which came off tipped passes and were not Virgil’s fault, according to Kiesau. Virgil did, however, throw for 303 yards and three touchdowns.
Kiesau decided to stick with the redshirt freshman and not bring in fifth-year senior backup Zach Kline.
“The easy route to go is say, ‘Let’s pull him,’ but after he made his second interception I looked him in the eye and said, ‘I believe in you,’ and that goes a long way with young men nowadays,” Kiesau said.
He said that it sends a bad message to give up on kids too quickly. He feels that his decision to stick with Virgil will pay off in the future.
“When you go through a little adversity and you stick by someone and they know that you care about them and they know you believe in them, they’ll come back and play harder for you and work harder for you,” Kiesau said.
The Bulldogs jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the second quarter, but Air Force scored before halftime to cut the lead to 14-7. Air Force started the second half with a field goal, and then promptly returned Virgil’s third interception 35 yards for a touchdown, giving the Falcons a 17-14 lead.
Fresno State answered with a 52-yard Virgil touchdown pass to wide receiver KeeSean Johnson, his third of the game and a career best, regaining the lead for the Bulldogs. This would end up being the last score for Fresno State as Air Force scored two more touchdowns to go ahead by 10.
Johnson’s three touchdowns tied Davante Adams’ school record for most touchdowns by a wide receiver in a game. Johnson caught 10 passes for a career-high 142 yards. Johnson came into the game with only three touchdowns in his career.
“Personally your first goal is always to win as a team, but for me I feel good about my performance tonight, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the team and without the practice we go through,” Johnson said.
“We came in, same game plan, similar game plan to what we had each week, and our coach just demanded a lot of energy and asked everyone, ‘Are we all in?’ and that was the main point this weekend,” Johnson said. “I feel like everyone came out to play and showed that they were all in.”
The Falcons’ offense broke out in the third quarter when starting quarterback Nate Romine got injured and was replaced by backup Arion Worthman. The backup gave the Bulldogs’ defense more trouble than the starter. Worthman did not attempt a single pass, but he ran the ball 20 times for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
“In my entire career, whenever the backup comes in, it’s never good,” Kiesau said shaking his head. “He just lets it rip. He has fun. He’s coming off the bench. He’s got nothing to lose.”
Fresno State senior free safety Stratton Brown led the defense with 15 tackles and said that the ‘Dogs’ defense struggled to defend the Falcon’s triple offense attack when Worthman came in.
“With the triple option, they’ve got an answer for everything we do, and that’s just how it goes – we need to make those tackles,” Brown said. “I feel like that quarterback came in and ran the offense really good. He ran the ball hard, and he’d get those extra yards.”
Brown said the team had more energy in practice throughout the week and that the Bulldogs have been fighting hard every game day, although it has not turned out for them yet.
The ’Dogs travel to Fort Collins to take on Colorado State (4-4) on Sat., Nov. 5.