Teammates hoisted senior quarterback Matt Faulkner onto their shoulders after he threw for 363 yards and two second-half touchdowns to lift the Spartans to a 27-24 victory over Fresno State on Nov. 26. It was their first win at Bulldog Stadium since 1987 and their first Western Athletic Conference road win since Nov. 1, 2008.
"I told them they're going to walk into Wal-Mart over the next few days, go and get something to eat at Peanuts, and they're going to run into ex-players who are going to thank them, that hadn't won here in 24 years," San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre said. "So it's a big deal -- a huge deal -- for our program."
The Spartans came up one win short of becoming bowl eligible after squandering double-digit fourth-quarter leads against Idaho and Utah State, but they made unmistakable progress in their second season under MacIntyre. They had lost 13 games in a row dating back to last season before beating New Mexico State on Sept. 24.
The Spartans won three out of four games before blowing their bowl chances with a three-game losing streak, but they'll go bounding into the offseason after ending the year with dramatic victories over Navy and Fresno State. San Jose State will return quite a bit of talent next season with tight end Ryan Otten, wide receivers Noel Grigsby, Chandler Jones and Jabari Carr, defensive end Travis Johnson, LB Keith Smith and others expected to return.
San Jose State must find replacements for Faulkner, senior running back Brandon Rutley and three starting offensive linemen, but they may already have their man at quarterback. Michigan transfer Tate Forcier is attending San Jose State this year and says he intends to join the Spartans for spring workouts. Forcier started for the Wolverines in 2009 and served as the backup to Denair Robinson in 2010, completing 219 of 365 passes for 2,647 yards with 17 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 20 games for the Wolverines.
Forcier's day will come. The Spartans are eager to get to work in anticipation of the 2012 season, but for now they're reveling in victory and celebrating another quarterback who made a big impact in his only season as a starter. Faulkner won the starting job last summer and reclaimed it after MacIntyre experimented with sophomore Dasmen Stewart. Faulkner finished the season with a flourish and capped his career with a victory over Fresno State, which is where he began his college career before leaving to find an opportunity to be a starter.
"It was really, really special," MacIntyre said. "He was very grateful. When he came in, the team put him up on (their) shoulders and carried him around, and then we gave him the game ball and they wanted him to speak, so he spoke to them. What a phenomenal year. What a phenomenal ending for Matt Faulkner."
GAME OF THE YEAR: San Jose State 28, Hawaii 27 -- San Jose State's season-ending 27-24 victory over Fresno State gets honorable mention, but nothing tops the night the Spartans took down the preseason favorite in the Western Athletic Conference. They trailed 27-20 with 11:46 to play when junior DE Travis Johnson blocked an extra-point attempt and senior S Duke Ihenacho returned it for two points on a rare defensive conversion. The Spartans still trailed 27-22 when they gained possession at their own 13-yard line with 1:24 remaining. Senior QB Matt Faulkner orchestrated an 87-yard drive and set off a raucous celebration when he threw a game-winning, 37-yard touchdown pass to Chandler Jones with 36 seconds to play.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: QB Matt Faulkner -- The senior quarterback suffered a concussion in the season opener against Stanford and temporarily lost the starting job to sophomore Dasmen Stewart, but Faulkner persevered. He was given a second opportunity and didn't disappoint, emerging as a steady, reliable leader who led the Spartans to more wins than they had in the past two seasons combined. Faulkner led the Western Athletic Conference in passing at 286.3 yards per game. He completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 3,149 yards and 13 touchdowns, and he was the one teammates hoisted onto their shoulders after the Spartans beat Fresno State to end the season.
FAST FORWARD: The Spartans will lose Faulkner and senior RB Brandon Rutley, but they will be eager for 2012 with a wealth of talent returning from a team that progressed nicely in its second season under coach Mike MacIntyre. Former Michigan starter Tate Forcier is expected to step in at quarterback, and he'll have a nice core of receivers to work with. WRs Noel Grigsby, Chandler Jones and Jabari Carr should all be back, as will TE Ryan Otten. Seniors such as S Duke Ihenacho, LB Pompey Festejo, DE Mohamed Marah, S James Orth and CB Peyton Thompson will have to be replaced, but the Spartans will welcome back junior DE Travis Johnson, sophomore LB Keith Smith and freshman DT Travis Raciti.
RECRUITING TRAIL: San Jose State needs a running back with big-play ability to replace Rutley. The Spartans are pursuing Chris Brown, who rushed for 1,748 yards and 26 touchdowns in 10 regular-season games this season as a senior at San Joaquin Memorial High School in Fresno, Calif. Brown also is being courted by Oregon, Utah, Nebraska, Arizona State and Colorado, among others. Other prized recruits include C Matt Cochran, LB Thomas Brown, S Christian Tago, QBs Mike Baker and Tyler Stewart, DT Milo Jordan, OTs Nico Siragusa and Kyree Oliver, and DEs Nate Iese, Ewing Simmons and Johnny Stuart.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It is definitely going to help us with recruiting. It's going to give our young men a jolt in the arm going into exams. It's going to give a jolt in the arm when we come back for winter workouts and spring practice. But in all sports you can't start where you left off. You've got to go back to ground zero and start again. So when we come back in January, we'll go back to ground zero and we'll start building it again. But a lot of things we do now as a coaching staff are validated with these wins. They listen a little bit more. They work a little bit harder. They've tasted it and they want to keep doing it." -- San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre, on the significance of winning five games this season after winning only once in 2010.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2012:
QB Tate Forcier -- Expected to step in as the starter in 2012, Forcier comes in with some strong credentials. He started at Michigan in 2009 and served as the primary backup behind Denair Robinson in 2010 before leaving the program. Forcier completed 219 of 365 passes for 2,647 yards with 17 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 20 games for the Wolverines. He threw for 7,448 yards and 61 touchdowns while rushing for 2,049 yards and 24 touchdowns in an illustrious prep career that made him one of the nation's most prized recruits at Scripps Ranch High School in San Diego, Calif.
WR Noel Grigsby -- The 170-pound sophomore set a single-season school record with 89 receptions this season. He was first in the Western Athletic Conference in receptions per game (7.4) and sixth in receiving yards per game (73.8). Grigsby was named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list after leading the team with an average of 14.7 yards per catch last season. He has 145 catches for 1,708 yards in two seasons at San Jose State.
TE Ryan Otten -- The 6-foot-5 junior emerged as one of the nation's best tight ends this season. He was second on the team in receiving yards (739) and third in receptions (52). He set a single-season school record for receiving yards by a tight end, breaking Brian Roche's record of 729 in 1995.
S Duke Ihenacho -- The 205-pound senior has had a stellar season after missing most of 2010 with an injury. The two-time, first-team All-Western Athletic Conference selection is rated fourth out of 115 strong safeties by NFLDraftScout.com. The website has him projected as a fourth- or fifth-round pick. Ihenacho ranks among the WAC leaders in tackles, passes defended and fumble recoveries.
QB Matt Faulkner -- The 6-foot-2, 205-pound quarterback is a marginal pro prospect but he has done enough to deserve a look from NFL scouts. Faulkner led the WAC in passing at 286.3 yards per game. He completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 3,149 yards with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions this season. In his last four games, he completed 112 of 172 (.651) for 1,316 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions.
RB Brandon Rutley -- A sprained ankle slowed Rutley over the second half of the season, but he might impress in pre-draft workouts once the tender ankle has a chance to heal. The 192-pound senior is a shifty runner who can carry the ball, catches passes out of the backfield and return kicks. He rushed for a season-high 209 yards against New Mexico State on Sept. 24 and demonstrated his versatility against Navy on Nov. 19, carrying 27 times for 132 yards and catching eight passes for 101 yards.
--WR Chandler Jones was taken to a hospital after suffering an injury against Fresno State on Nov. 26. San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre said the team's medical staff suspected Jones had a broken collarbone.
--S Duke Ihenacho was unable to play in the win over Fresno State after hurting his left knee a week earlier against Navy. MacIntyre said the two-time first-team All-Western Athletic Conference selection still found a way to help the Spartans win.
"I'll tell you what, he was so sharp during the game," MacIntyre said. "He said, 'Coach, they're doing this, this and this,' and I went over and told them. Sure enough, the next time they did it, we made a play on it. He was over there telling the kids. So he was really into it."
--K Jens Alvernik made two field goals in the victory over Fresno State to break a 41-year-old school record. Alvernik finished the season 18 of 25 on field-goal attempts. He broke a single-season school record held by Lou Rodriguez, who made 16 field goals in 1970.
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