Fresno State will now go into the offseason searching for a new head coach and many returning players that will need to have a successful spring session
The final game of the 2011 season paralleled how the entire year has gone for Fresno State – an opportunity within reach only to be pulled away late in the contest.
The ‘Dogs battled it out with past and future rival San Diego State in what was deemed the “Battle for the Old Oil Can” with the winner getting the Oil Can Trophy.
Fresno State will renew the rivalry with the Aztecs during its upcoming jump to the Mountain West Conference next season, a conference San Diego State already belongs to.
Coming into the game, the ‘Dogs seemed to be the clear underdogs with the Aztecs sporting a 7-4 record, but Fresno State came out of the gates speeding.
The hot start was fueled in first quarter with San Diego State trying to get the first lead with a field goal attempt, but the ‘Dogs added another blocked kick to their already decade-long special teams dominance.
Senior Isaiah Green recovered the blocked kick and returned it 59 yards for the first points of the game to give Fresno State a 7-0 lead.
The second quarter started out similar to the first with the ‘Dogs making plays with sophomore quarterback Derek Carr playing in his final game of his first year as the starter, by getting the ball in his playmakers’ hands.
The first strike was after a four-play, 99-yard drive during which Carr found his top target in sophomore Jalen Saunders for an 88-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 14-0. Saunders finished his breakout sophomore season with three catches for 105 yards.
Then, Carr was at it again later in the quarter as he drove the ‘Dogs down the field on a four-play, 80-yard drive that culminated with Carr hitting freshman wide receiver Josh Harper for a 23-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 21-0. In his season finale, Carr completed 19-of-35 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns.
After Fresno State took a three-touchdown lead, the Aztecs seemed to wake up with sophomore running back Ronnie Hillman finishing off an 11-play, 81-yard drive with a 20-yard touchdown run to cut the Bulldog lead to 21-7.
Fresno State couldn’t get anything going during the rest of the second quarter, which allowed the Aztecs to have a shot to put points on the board before the half. San Diego State took advantage of the opportunity and executed a 10-play, 78-yard drive that ended with sophomore fullback Chad Young plowing it in from one yard out to move within a touchdown of the ‘Dogs.
After halftime, the third quarter went a lot like the end of the second with the Aztecs putting some more points on the board, utilizing a steady dose of Hillman. Hillman did the heavy lifting on a three-play, 74-yard drive that ended with a two-yard touchdown run for his second on the night, tying score at 21 apiece.
It was more of the same later in the quarter with the Aztecs offense utilizing all of its weapons, especially Hillman who scored another touchdown, but this time of the two-yard variety just before the fourth quarter to give his team its first lead of the evening, 28-21.
With Fresno State down by seven entering the fourth quarter, the Bulldog offense drove down the field with Carr leading the way. Running back Robbie Rouse finished off the drive with a two-yard touchdown to tie the score at 28 all. Rouse finished his junior year with 20 carries for 58 yards and one touchdown. Rouse put together his most impressive season as a Bulldog, racking up 1,549 yards rushing to go along with 13 touchdowns.
The Fresno State offense was unable to put any more points on the board and the Aztecs capitalized. With only a couple minutes left in the quarter San Diego State drove down the field with Hillman plunging it in from two yards out to give the Aztecs a 35-28 lead. Hillman finished with 29 carries for 182 yards and four touchdowns.
The Bulldogs had an opportunity to tie the score, but couldn’t complete a comeback bid as the Aztecs would go on to win 35-28, pushing Fresno State’s season record to 4-9.
The 4-9 record is the worst since the 2006 season, during which Fresno State finished with a 4-8 record, the only difference is most of the current players will be back next year providing the nucleus for the 2012 version of the Bulldogs.