By John Philip Wyllie
It’s official. The San Diego State Aztecs (2-6) will not reach their goal of participating in a bowl game following this dreadful season. Saturday’s 51-28 debacle at the “Q” against the sixth ranked Utah Utes (8-0) made sure of that. With three games left on their schedule, the best the beleaguered Aztecs can hope for now is a 5-6 season and a marked improvement next year. With a road game against always tough BYU (4-4, 3-1) on tap for tomorrow, even a 5-6 season seems unlikely, but at least there is some hope for the future. A trio of local athletes is providing much of that hope to the Aztec faithful.
Getting his second start of the season, freshman quarterback, Kevin O’Connell (La Costa Canyon) completed 21 out of his 43 passes and accumulated 252 yards against a very solid defense. He also passed for two touchdowns and ran for one in himself. He is still making too many mistakes (two interceptions Saturday) but he is starting to show more poise in the pocket. And when the pocket collapses, as it often does with the Aztecs patchwork offensive line, O’Connell can run. His efforts were rewarded following Saturday’s game with the news that he will be the Aztecs starter for the balance of the season.
Another North County product, Brandon Bornes, out of Rancho Buena Vista High, rushed for over 100 yards Saturday for the first time in his college career. At 6’1” and 235 pounds Bornes is big enough to run over would-be tacklers. Possessing deceptive speed, he is also fast enough to run away from them. His 112 yards on 17 carries was the best effort of any Aztec ball carrier this year. Like O’Connell, Bornes is only a freshman. There is no telling how good he might become in the next three years especially if he is paired with a healthy Lynell Hamilton.
Robert Ortiz, the former Santa Fe Christian star, has been quietly doing a great job all season as the Aztecs number-two receiver behind junior, Jeff Webb. Ortiz, known primarily as a possession receiver, had four catches for 44 yards against the Utes bringing his season total to 39 receptions for 527 yards and four touchdowns.
The biggest day of all however, was turned in by another local athlete, former Helix High quarterback, Alex Smith. Unfortunately, for the Aztecs, Smith attends the University of Utah. He enjoyed a career day before his hometown crowd. Smith carved up the Aztec defense like a Thanks-giving turkey. He made dark meat out of the “Dark Side,” roasting them for a whopping 298 yards and five touchdowns through the air and carrying 15 times himself for an additional 45 yards.
In recent years, Aztec head coach, Tom Craft has done a pretty good job of persuading some of San Diego’s top prep athletes to stay home and attend SDSU. Smith is a prime example of one that got away. If the Aztecs are ever going to step up and be a contender in the Mountain West Conference more of those blue chip athletes will need to don the black and red.
The loss to Utah did at least have one positive effect. It allowed Utah to keep its BCS bowl game bid alive. Should the Utes finish with a perfect 11-0 record, they would be likely bound for the Fiesta Bowl. Participation in such a major bowl game would bring with it millions of dollars and not just for the Utes, but for every team in the Mountain West Conference. The Aztecs expected windfall could be about one million dollars.