Rocky Long becomes a gutsy genius with right call in Aztecs’ epic overtime victory

Posted: 10/21/2012 in college football
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

A crazy thing happened late Saturday night – no, make that two really bizarre occurrences.

San Diego State kicked a clutch field goal at the end of the regulation and coach Rocky Long make the right gutsy call at the end of a game.

The end result was a 39-38 overtime victory over Nevada, a big victory for the Aztecs as they chase a third consecutive bowl appearance.

And the dramatic victory was really huge on that front, giving San Diego State a 5-3 record with four games left.

Chance Marden’s 35-yard field goal with no time remaining forced overtime. Then after Nevada scored a touchdown on its first overtime possession, the Aztecs answered with a 21-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Adam Dingwell to Gavin Escobar.

Then Long stunned me by doing the absolute right thing. The Aztecs were playing with house money in Reno against a team that rarely loses at home. San Diego State’s stunning comeback needed a punctuation point to inject a huge dose of momentum for the final third of the regular season.

It was time for a dare – win or lose time – as opposed to playing it safe and heading to a second overtime.

So the Aztecs went for two points – just as I was calling for on my personal Twitter feed – and Dingwell hit Rob Andrews with the winning two-point conversion.

Perhaps the Ghost of Andy Trakas was put to rest with Marden’s clutch kick. The big make reminded me of how little confidence Long had in Marden earlier this season, particularly in a loss at Washington when Long couldn’t have made it any clearer that he had no interest in even trying to see if the kicking game could be a help.

Marden’s tying field goal was part of what made for a very un-San Diego State-like ending. This was the type of contest that long suffering Aztecs’ fans have seen way too often over the years and they nearly always end with a defeat.

I covered San Diego State’s football program for nine seasons as a professional and three seasons in college. I never once saw an Aztecs team pull out the type of dramatic victory that just occurred. I never once covered a San Diego State squad that even played in a bowl game, an embarrassing fact (for the school, not for me).

Typically when San Diego State lands in such a crucial situation, the Aztecs fall short. I’m sure you haven’t forgotten that crazy “illegal stemming” penalty that helped Louisiana-Lafayette beat the Aztecs in last season’s New Orleans Bowl, have you?

Even hearing 39-38 brings back bad memories for San Diego State fans. That was the score of the 1986 Holiday Bowl, when the Aztecs suffered a heartbreaking loss to Iowa on Rob Houghtlin’s last-second 41-yard field goal. San Diego State had a 14-point fourth-quarter lead before crumbling in front of a raucous home crowd.

But this night was far, far different. The Aztecs had just 14 points through three quarters before Dingwell – playing because starter Ryan Katz was lost to an ankle injury – suddenly found his comfort zone and navigated the offense to 17 final-quarter points.

Dingwell led the Aztecs on touchdown drives of 73 and 75 yards to get the Aztecs within 31-28 and then guided the team 63 yards in 50 seconds to set up Marden’s clutch field goal.

“I couldn’t have done it without myself and the coaching staff,” Dingwell said in a postgame television interviewing, prompting deep introspection per how a person could possibly perform without himself.

But hey, we will let that mystery simmer for a later time. San Diego State did the unthinkable Saturday night and I need time for that to sink in first.

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