Zane Pope’s turnaround to Old Oil Can victory

Leonard Payne Jr. (55) gets a fumble recovery in the game against the Aztecs on Oct. 29, 2022. (Aidan Garaygordobil/ The Collegian)

Story updated on Oct. 30, 2022 at 10:45 a.m.

Trailing in the final minutes of the game, Fresno State on Saturday scored two crucial touchdowns in 13 seconds in the fourth quarter to slip past the San Diego Aztecs with a 32-28 victory. 

After a 3-yard rushing touchdown by Bulldog Jordan Mims, Fresno State kicked the ball short, and it fell off the hands of an Aztec player, with Bulldog Zane Pope receiving the fumble for another Fresno State possession.

In the Bulldogs’ first play after the fumble, quarterback Jake Haener returned with his iconic gun-slinger playmaking in the final seconds of the game. He threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Nikko Remigio. Fresno State won and kept the traditional Old Oil Can trophy that marks the rivalry between the two teams.

Fresno State won the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff. The return of Jake Haener as starting quarterback was questionable for Saturday’s matchup but he made an appearance during warmups, suited in navy along with safety Evan Williams. 

However, Haener was welcomed back with a second play sack at the hands of the Aztec linebacker Michael Shawcroft before making first-down connections with Pope and Jalen Moreno-Cropper.

Fresno State’s first drive ended short of the end zone with the Bulldogs settling for a field goal by Abraham Montaño to put the Bulldogs up 3-0.

The Aztecs’ first possession started with back-to-back loss of yardage plays due to Morice Norris and the Bulldogs’ defense. Aztec quarterback Jalen Mayden connected with receiver Tyrell Shavers to keep the Aztec possession alive. 

Mayden continued firing offensively, running it himself for a 28-yard rushing touchdown. This put the Aztecs up 7-3. 

The Bulldog offense did not progress in the following drive, as Haener suffered two back-to-back sacks by Aztec defensive lineman Justus Tavai and linebacker Caden McDonald. Fresno State ended the first quarter punting the ball away

In the second quarter, Mayden completed a third-down conversion to keep the drive alive before a 32-yard pass to Shavers with a fumble recovered by fellow Aztec Mark Redman. The Aztecs wasted no time with another 26-yard pass caught by Kenan Christon at the endzone, giving San Diego a 14-3 lead. 

Moreno-Cropper kept the Bulldogs’ next drive alive with a 29-yard sideline catch.  During the play, offensive lineman Dontae Bull suffered a serious leg injury and was medically carted off the field. The ‘Dogs brought in junior lineman Daniel Taumalolo.

Haener got his offense back into the red zone for a Bulldog touchdown pass caught by Nikko Remigio, making it Haener’s first touchdown since his injury in September. The score would put the dogs down 14-10.

The Aztecs began their drive with receiver Jesse Matthews fumbling the ball, and Bulldog defensive lineman Leonard Payne Jr. recovered it,  putting the Bulldogs in Aztec territory. However, the ‘Dogs’ drive came up short after the Bulldogs could not convert a fourth down, returning the ball back to the Aztecs.

San Diego State’s offense took the ball down into the Fresno State’s red zone with a 49-yard completion to Christon, followed shortly by a Mayden 1-yard run into the endzone, increasing the Aztecs’ lead to 21-10.

The next Bulldog possession was short, ending with a punt that gave the Aztecs the ball with 48 seconds remaining in the second quarter. 

Electing to call two timeouts, the Aztecs attempted to make it to the field goal range. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was called  for a punch from Aztec lineman Josh Simmons, and a false start penalty ended the quarter. 

The Aztecs received the third-quarter kickoff, driving the ball down to the Fresno State 36-yard line and converted on a fourth down attempt. An interception thrown by Mayden to defensive back Cameron Lockridge immediately followed, starting the Bulldog offense on the Aztecs’ 45-yard line.

Haener found his receivers Pope and Moreno-Cropper to take the Bulldog offense down into the Aztec red zone. The drive ended prematurely with a Haener interception in the endzone by Aztec cornerback Noah Avinger. 

The Aztecs went three and out the following possession, pulling a fake punt on the unsuspecting Bulldog defense to put them back in Bulldog territory. Mayden and his offense capitalized with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Matthews, further increasing the Aztec lead to 28-10. 

The Bulldog offense started with two incompletions before a 39-yard pass by Haener to Pope kept the ‘Dogs from going three and out. Haener was then sacked two times by Aztecs Garret Fountain and Jonah Tavai, ending the drive before a muffed punt catch by Matthews. 

The Bulldogs maintained possession of the ball and scored off an eight-yard catch to Pope ending the third quarter of play and closing the score gap to 28-17.

The following Aztec possession saw an important fourth and one attempt to keep the drive going, but the Bulldog defense held as linebacker Malachi Langley made the initial hit, ending the Aztec drive.

Haener was sacked again to start the possession before connecting with Moreno-Cropper to begin driving the Dogs’ down the field.  The drive took the Bulldog offense down into Aztec territory before an interception thrown by Haener to the front of the endzone. 

The Bulldog defense closed in on the Aztecs the following possession with a strip sack recovered by the ‘Dogs’ defensive lineman Johnny Hudson Jr. The Bulldog offense was inside the Aztec red zone but failed to convert, setting up for a short field goal that was eventually tipped

The Aztecs followed by going three and out, returning the ball back to Fresno State where Haener would find Moreno-Cropper and Mims. The Bulldogs scored and successfully got the two point conversion putting the dogs 25-28. 

The Bulldogs then recovered the ensuing onside kick to give the offense a chance to score. Haener delivered a 37-yard completion to Remigio to put Fresno State up 32-28.

The Aztecs looked to score but were intercepted by Fresno State’s Carlton Johnson, ending the game with Bulldog victory. 

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