October 22, 2004

Aztecs Snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

By John Philip Wyllie

Despite an uneven performance on Saturday, the then (2-3) SDSU Aztecs anticipated getting back to .500 with their third victory of the collegiate football season after previous back to back defeats. With just one minute and 51 seconds to play, they had a three-point lead and control of the ball. Victory was seemingly at hand. The 1-4 Colorado State Rams could do little except hope for a miracle and watch the clock count down the game’s last remaining seconds. The Rams miracle turned out to be the latest horror in what has turned out to be a nightmarish Aztec season.

According to the referees, running back Michael Franklin fumbled the ball after being swarmed upon by a horde of Ram tacklers at the Aztec 10-yard line. This highly questionable decision came only after an unusual and prolonged conference between the officials.

Franklin claimed afterward that there was no fumble. Videotaped replays shot from various angles proved inconclusive. Much to the Aztecs’ dismay, the officials ruled that Franklin had in fact fumbled and that Colorado State had recovered. Taking advantage of this unexpected gift, the Rams scored the go-ahead touchdown two plays later and led 21-17. The horror did not end here, however.

Following the ensuing kickoff, the Aztecs had 1:10 on the clock in which to regain the lead. Despite some major clock mismanagement while attempting to run the two-minute offense, the Aztecs, on the last play of the game, found themselves in a position to win. They did not.

Kevin O’Connell’s last ditched desperation pass into the end zone sailed over the outstretched arms of several Ram defenders and into waiting hands of an Aztec receiver. With the opportunity for victory hanging in the balance, the ball slid through those hands and on to the Qualcomm Stadium turf.

The loss virtually ended any Aztec hope of a post-season appearance. O.K., by winning four of their last five games, they could theoretically win a bowl bid. But with Utah, BYU and Air Force on their remaining schedule, the chances of doing that are about on a par with a Ralph Nader winning the Presidential election.

In view of this latest devastating defeat, beleaguered Aztec head coach, Tom Craft, has decided to shake things up by turning the quarterbacking reins over to promising freshman Kevin O’Connell. O’Connell may want to think that one over. With an ever-changing cast of characters providing him protection, quarterbacking the Aztecs might be hazardous to his health.

At his weekly press conference Craft spoke highly of O’Connell and defended his decision to make a change.

“(O’Connell) is a good athlete and he gives us a bit more mobility, something Matt doesn’t really have. Kevin kept some of our drives going by scrambling (last Saturday). With our banged up and inexperienced offensive line, it’s good to have a quarterback who can move around and create plays.”

If there was ever a team in need of a good running quarterback, the Aztecs are it. At times, O’Connell has shown flashes of brilliance, but at others he has looked very ordinary. If he can stay healthy, he can use the next five games to gain experience. Then next year with a hopefully healthy Lynell Hamilton to rely upon and a hopefully much deeper offensive line, the Aztecs may develop into a more competitive team. The Aztecs will try to regroup on the road tomorrow for a 3:35 p.m. kickoff against New Mexico (3-4) and then return home on October 30 to face 9th ranked Utah.

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