Bulldogs are back in the top 25 after victory over Aztecs

Fresno State takes the Old Oil Can in win over San Diego State on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. (Courtesy of Samuel Marshall/Fresno State Athletics)

Throughout the 2019 season, Fresno State running back Jordan Mims was forced to watch his team compete from the sideline, as a foot injury late in 2018 put him on the shelf for over a year.

“I was pretty hurt,” Mims said to The Collegian. “Adversity happens all the time. I just knew I had to focus on rehab and getting my body right.”

Now, Mims is making the most with every opportunity he gets. Last week, the senior rushed for a career-high of 134 yards. And with Fresno State starting running back Ronnie Rivers ruled out of Saturday night’s game against the No. 21 San Diego State Aztecs, the Bulldogs needed another strong performance from Mims.

In back-to-back weeks, he delivered with another career-high performance. The senior ran for 186 rushing yards and two touchdowns in Fresno State’s 30-20 victory over No. 21 San Diego State at Carson, California, ending the Aztecs’ perfect season.

“Tonight was his style of football where we needed ground-and-pound,” Fresno State head coach Kalen DeBoer said. “I’m just so proud of him because of all the things he’s worked on, and we challenged him to get better at being more physical, being tough. You know, he’s just really made himself better in those areas.”

Mims credited his recent success to just growing as a player.

“I’m probably just mature and now I’m a lot older now,” Mims said. “I know a lot about the game now.”

Bulldog running back Jordan Mims rushes past defender against San Diego State on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in Carson, California at Dignity Health Sports Park. (Courtesy of Samuel Marshall/Fresno State Athletics)

Mims’ big night helped the Bulldogs gain back possession of the Old Oil Can for the first time since 2019, and defeat their second ranked opponent in the same season since 2004.

For defensive lineman and San Diego native Kevin Atkins, keeping the hardware from rivalry games is something that he prides in.

“I would love to go out with every trophy that we could possibly get back to Fresno,” Atkins said. “I’m from San Diego so that was a big hometown win for me… I might be San Diego born, but I’m Fresno made.”

Coming into Saturday night’s game, San Diego State’s defense was holding its opponents to 279.4 yards per game, the fifth-best margin in all of FBS. But by the end of the first half, Fresno State’s offense produced 308 total yards. 

The Bulldogs have a well-noted history this season of starting off slow. But against one of the best defenses in the nation, Fresno State got the ball rolling to start the game.

Fresno State’s offense orchestrated a 15-play, 85-yard drive that ended with a 13-yard touchdown run from Mims. The ‘Dogs caught an early 7-0 lead with 3:53 left of the first quarter.

The momentum carried on. In the following SDSU drive, Evan Williams snatched a pass thrown from Aztec Lucas Johnson and returned the ball 36 yards to set up the Bulldogs in Aztec territory.

Two plays later, the Bulldogs cushioned their lead to 14-0 after quarterback Jake Haener nailed a pass to Keric Wheatfall in the left corner of the end zone with 14:10 left in the second quarter. 

“We faced a really good football team tonight,” DeBoer said. “We came out strong. I thought we played one of our better first quarters that we’ve had. We had a really good mindset this week.”

Fresno State kicker Cesar Silva made two field goals from 49 and 27 yards out to increase the Bulldogs’ lead 20-0 in the second quarter.

But with 2:15 left in the game, the Aztecs finally got on the board as Johnson connected with Tyrell Shavers for a 19-yard touchdown pass, giving SDSU some momentum heading into halftime, but still trailing 20-7.

“The guys did a really good job competing and standing on the field when we had to,” said Haener, who ended the night with 306 passing yards. 

One of Haener’s favorite targets — wide receiver Jalen Cropper — had a rough third quarter. After catching a pass, Cropper lost control of the ball, causing a fumble recovered by the Aztecs. In that same play, Cropper went down with a leg injury and was carted off the field but later returned to the sideline under his own strength. DeBoer said the severity of the injury remains unknown. 

Silva added another field goal, this time from 42 yards, to make it 23-7 for the Bulldogs.

The following drive, the Aztecs cut their deficit to 23-13 as running back Greg Bell pounded his way into the end zone with 13 seconds left in the third quarter.

Heading into the fourth quarter, the comeback was still possible for SDSU. With 6:43 left, the Aztecs started their most critical drive of the game at their 1-yard line after a punt from Fresno State’s Carson King.

SDSU moved the ball up the field, but Johnson threw his second interception of the game, which was picked off by Fresno State’s Jalen Williams. 

The Bulldogs wasted no time as Mims moved the ball 31 yards in two plays. Mims had his second touchdown of the night to put Fresno State up 30-13, with 4:28 left in the game.

That touchdown turned out to be a good source of insurance, as the Aztecs got one more touchdown before the end of the game. SDSU’s Will Haskel, who came in for Johnson, scored on a 7-yard keeper to give the Aztecs a small glimpse at a comeback, but the ‘Dogs secured the win, ending the game 30-20.

With this win, Fresno State is back in the top 25 in AP rankings at No. 25. 

The Bulldogs will host Boise State for the first time since 2017 on Saturday, Nov. 6, at 4:30 p.m.

Previous Story Bulldogs vs. San Diego State preview: Battle for the Old Oil Can article thumbnail mt-3

Bulldogs vs. San Diego State preview: Battle for the Old Oil Can

Next Story Arte Américas celebrates ​​Día de Los Muertos with annual Cala Gala article thumbnail mt-3

Arte Américas celebrates ​​Día de Los Muertos with annual Cala Gala