Win or Stay Home: Rams Host Aztecs

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) -- It was an important win for San Diego State and, at the same time, one that coach Tom Craft would just as soon forget.

In last week's 7-0 victory over UNLV, San Diego State's starting quarterback, leading rusher and top receiver and one of its best offensive linemen all suffered significant injuries.

The Aztecs head into Saturday's game at Colorado State hoping that quarterback Adam Hall can play through ligament damage in his ankle. Offensive tackle Mike Kracalik also may try to play with a torn labrum in his shoulder.

But freshman Lynell Hamilton, who had rushed for 1,087 yards this season, is out for the remainder of the year after breaking two bones in his lower right leg. And receiver Jeff Webb, who was leading the Aztecs with 55 catches for 706 yards, also appears to be done for the year after damaging ligaments in his shoulder.

"I don't think I've ever been involved in a game where one side of the ball kept taking a hit," Craft said. "And they weren't just subtle hits, they were big hits.

That was as emotional an experience as I've ever been through as a coach -- to see the guys go down with injuries and still find a way to win.

"It was obviously a big win for us and a very costly win. Those four guys are probably the best players at their positions."

What should help the Aztecs regroup this week is the knowledge that they remain mathematically in contention for the Mountain West Conference title despite losing five of their first eight games.

SDSU (5-5, 2-3 Mountain West) has won its last two games but needs two more -- over Colorado State and Air Force -- to have a shot at the league crown. By winning their last two games, the Aztecs also would become bowl eligible for the first time since 1998.

"In this conference, everybody beats everybody," Craft said. "You hope to have a little run where you get momentum. (MWC leader) Utah has been able to do that. We're on a little run right now."

Colorado State, also 5-5 and 2-3, appears to be headed in the opposite direction.

A three-game winning streak in October got the Rams in the thick of the title chase, but they have dropped their last two games -- to Wyoming and New Mexico.

Last week's 37-34 loss to New Mexico was especially frustrating. The Rams trailed 31-14 before quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt rallied them to two fourth-quarter touchdowns. CSU clearly had the momentum, but Van Pelt fumbled a snap on CSU's last possession, and New Mexico kicked a 33-yard field goal as time expired.

"We were playing very well," coach Sonny Lubick said of the three-game win streak. "I'd like to make some excuses and say we have some injuries, but everybody has those.

"We didn't play as well at Wyoming, and they hit us right between the eyes. Last week, our kids played hard, we just came up short. New Mexico is probably as good as anybody in the league right now."

To prevail on Saturday, the Rams will have to solve the conference's top defense. San Diego State ranks 12th nationally in total defense, allowing just 286.7 yards per game. Last week, the Aztecs limited UNLV to 175 total yards, including just 80 yards through three quarters.

"Every place they've gone, they've played very well on defense, even at Ohio State," Lubick said. "The thing that makes them frightening is they're very consistent. They're a very active, aggressive defense."

Colorado State has won six of the last eight meetings. The visiting team has won the last five meetings, and SDSU won on each of its last two visits to Hughes Stadium.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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