In January, Ronnie Rivers announced on Twitter that he would be returning for one more season with the Fresno State Bulldogs. After all, there was some unfinished business left for Rivers.
Heading into the Bulldogs’ opener, Rivers shared the record with Anthony Daigle, who played from 1991-1993, for the most career touchdowns in Fresno State history.
But it didn’t take long for the fifth-year running back to break that record, as Rivers caught a 61-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jake Haener to score touchdown No. 45, en route to the Bulldogs’ 45-0 shutout win over the UConn Huskies on Saturday afternoon.
It came at a special moment as fans were finally allowed back into Bulldog Stadium for the first time since 2019. Among the crowd was his family, which included his father, Fresno State football hall of famer Ron Rivers.
“This is my last season,” Rivers said. “To be able to play in front of Bulldog fans again was great. I know a lot of guys were excited and brought the energy. We can’t wait until the next home game when they’re out there again.”
Haener said he was waiting to throw the ball to Rivers for his record-breaking touchdown.
Rivers missed his chance last season during a game against Nevada. He ran the ball into the endzone for what would have been the touchdown No. 45 for him, but officials called the play back due to an illegal block by Haener.
“I’m happy for Ronnie,” Haener said. “He works really hard on his craft and he’s really fun to be around.”
Arron Mosby, making his first start at defensive end after playing last season at linebacker, ignited the Bulldogs’ scoring drive as he forced and recovered a fumble to give Fresno State’s its first lead of the game with 2:40 left in the first quarter.
“That play I just gave my full speed,” Mosby said. “They just happen to not even block me. Picking up the fumble was the hardest part. Returning it for a touchdown was probably the easiest.”
It took a while for the Bulldogs offense to start producing, as the Huskies limited them to just 32 yards in the first quarter. Head Coach Kalen DeBoer attributed the offensive woes to his players just not being able to find a rhythm early on.
“I think that was probably the biggest thing,” DeBoer said. “We got the one first down with Ronnie and then couldn’t get anything more after that… we do emphasize to our capacity to do a better job on the offensive next week.”
It wasn’t until the first five minutes of the second quarter when Fresno State’s offense got rolling.
The Bulldogs extended their lead in the second quarter on a four play, 69-yard drive that started with Jake Haener connecting with Josh Kelly for 37 yards. A couple plays later, Haener sailed a 9-yard touchdown pass to Ty Jones.
Jones, a transfer from Washington, recorded his first score as a Bulldog.
“I told him I was going to go to him on a fade in the red zone,” said Haener, who also transferred from Washington. “I wanted to give him a shot to make a play.”
Rivers added his record-breaking touchdown on a 61-yard touchdown pass from Haener to put the Bulldogs up 21-0 with 3:50 left in the second quarter. Next drive, Haener connected with Jalen Cropper for his third touchdown of the game, an 86-yarder.
As the clock expired, kicker Cesar Silva added 3 points to make it 31-0 at halftime for the Bulldogs.
While the offense played its role by lighting up the scoreboard, Fresno State defense held UConn to just 65 yards and stuffed the Huskies at the line, allowing them to convert on third down only once in ten attempts.
Mosby and defensive end David Perales recorded three tackles in the first half along with linebacker Tyson Maeva and defensive back Elijah Gates, both first-year Bulldog transfer players. Mosby had the lone sack in the first quarter.
Haener went down in the third quarter that forced him to miss the rest of the game. Haener ended the night completing 20 of 26 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns. Backup quarterback Logan Fife entered the game but threw an interception in the red zone later in the drive.
It wasn’t until late in the third quarter that Fresno State added another touchdown, an 8-yard rush by senior running back Jordan Mims.
Fife rebounded in the fourth quarter, connecting on a short 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Raymond Pauwels Jr., making it 45-0.
The Bulldogs’ 45 points against UConn were the most the team has put up since Oct. 18 when they beat UNLV, 56-27.
The Bulldogs will head to Eugene, Oregon, for its first road trip this season against the Pac-12 powerhouse No. 11 Oregon Ducks. The PAC-12 network will broadcast the game at 11 a.m.