It has been a rough 2016 season for Fresno State and Saturday’s rainy 16-14 loss to San Jose State was another notch on the historically bad 1-11 year.
Fresno State went into halftime with a 14-7 lead, but heavy rains reach Bulldog Stadium to wreck havoc on both the Bulldogs’ offensive game plan and the fans in Bulldog Stadium.
Over the last 30 minutes of play, Fresno State managed only 32 yards of offense while San Jose State used advantageous field position to score three field goals.
The 13 Bulldog seniors watched a second straight game slip through their fingers. Trailing 16-14, the Bulldogs had two more possessions to attempt to retake the lead, but failed to cross even their own 32-yard line.
“We’ve been up early,” senior Fresno State wide receiver Aaron Peck said. “We come in the locker room feeling like ‘this is how it is supposed to be, this is a good feeling, this is how we play.’ Then we come out in the second half and it’s like a whole different game. I don’t know why, but it’s just been this way.”
In this particular game, the rain threw the Bulldog offense off course. San Jose State’s defense adjusted to Fresno State’s’ rushing attack and did not let the ‘Dogs get anything going on the ground. The ball left quarterback Zach Kline’s hand only five times in the second half.
“We knew it was coming,” Peck said. “We had checked the weather report and saw that it was a 100 percent chance of rain. For me, in the first half, I thought ‘We need to make the plays outside that we know we can make before the rain starts.' We started out with some good throws… But we knew once it started raining it would be more of a running game. Coach was telling us [receivers] to focus on blocking.”
San Jose State’s defense set up its offense for two third-quarter field goals, but the Bulldogs still held onto a 14-13 lead going into the fourth quarter.
However, the Spartans landed back-to-back sacks deep in Fresno State possession to set up their offense yet again.
SJSU took over at the Fresno State 37-yard line, just outside of range to take the lead with 10:04 to go. The Spartans rode the legs of running back Deontae Cooper and quarterback Kenny Potter on six straight runs for 29 yards before an incomplete pass halted the drive. Bryce Crawford and the SJSU field goal unit converted for a third straight time in the rain for what would be the game-winning score - a 23-yard field goal.
Fresno State took possession two more times before time expired, but the Bulldogs failed to get farther than their own 32-yard line. On fourth down and two from their own 17 and less than a minute to go, a fumbled shotgun snap led Kline sealed the win for the Spartans.
“I’m sick to my stomach, it hurts to the core,” Fresno State Interim Head Coach Eric Kiesau said. “We wanted to get this one for the seniors and the players, and it didn’t go our way tonight.”
The final series of events reflected the overall box score as Cooper and Potter accounted for the majority of the Spartans’ yards via the run game and the SJSU defense totalled 14 total tackles for loss, four of which were sacks. Cooper had a career day, carrying 26 times for 126 yards, while Potter added 70 rushing yards on 17 carries. Potter had just 111 yards through the air, completing 15 of 25 passes with one touchdown and one interception.
For Fresno State, Kline completed 10 of 17 passes for 145 yards. He also rushed for a touchdown and gained 45 yards on the ground, but netted only nine yards due to sacks. Peck led the receivers with six catches for 63 yards and running back Dontel James led the rushing attack with 42 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.
The Spartans opened their season finale with a 6:21 possession that netted zero points. It was followed promptly by a 53-yard Fresno State pass, but two key special teams plays gave the Spartans a first-quarter advantage.
Fresno State went onto an 89-yard drive thanks to the long pass, but the Spartans forced the Bulldogs into a fourth down just six yards from the goalline. The Bulldogs attempted a fake field goal that the Spartans sniffed out to keep Fresno State off the scoreboard.
Two drives later, SJSU struck on special teams again. On fourth down from the Bulldogs’ own 41 yard line, San Jose State's David Williams broke through the line to block the punt and recovered it 11 yards shy of the end zone. It was the first blocked punt in over four years for San Jose State. Two plays later Kenny Potter connected with Tim Crawley for an eight-yard touchdown pass.
However, it was a near role reversal in the second quarter.
With a 7-0 lead, San Jose State was primed for good field position as Thai Cottrell awaited a Bulldog punt at midfield. The punt landed directly on a Spartan blocker, however, and was recovered by Fresno State.
Fresno State took advantage with a 13-play and 48-yard drive, capped off by a one-yard run by Dontel James, to tie the game at 7.
On the ensuing possession, SJSU faced fourth-and-two from the Fresno State 44-yard line and made the call to go for it. Quarterback Kenny Potter faced pressure after a play fake and his pass fell incomplete.
Once again, the Bulldogs took advantage. Just three plays later, quarterback Zach Kline kept a read option and ran for 32-yard touchdown to give Fresno State a 14-7 advantage.
San Jose State had one last effort to swing momentum back in their favor before halftime. Threatening from 18 yards out, Kenny Potter’s pass to the end zone was intercepted by Fresno State defensive back Stratton Brown - the senior's first career pick.
By halftime the Fresno rain was in a full downpour, testing the will of two teams guaranteed to finish with losing records regardless of the outcome.
It was the Spartans who set the tone to start the half, taking 19 of the first 23 offensive snaps between the two teams. SJSU forced a three-and-out to start the half and capped a 12-play, 59-yard drive with a 28-yard field goal by Bryce Crawford.
One play later, the ball was back in the Spartans’ possession when SJSU defensive lineman Owen Roberts forced Fresno State running back Dontel James to fumble, recovered by fellow Spartan D-Lineman Bryson Bridges. The Spartans settled for three points again - a 22-yard field goal by Crawford.
Over the entire second half, San Jose State held the Bulldogs to only 32 yards of offense.
Ultimately the Spartans defeated the Bulldogs for the fourth time in their last five meetings and the Valley Trophy will spend another year at SJSU
Fresno State finishes with a historically bad 1-11 season and failure to win a single FBS game - the only team in the FBS ranks to hold that title this season.
“It’s been a rough one,” Kiesau said. “What you go through day in and day out, every evening you look at the players and try to get them fired up and get them motivated. It’s not all their fault by any means. It’s tough. It’s not easy… We just fell short. It was one of those years where nothing really went our way.”
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