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Aztecs Are Leery of Long Beach in Opener Today

Times Staff Writer

Before San Diego State began playing the UCLAs, Stanfords, Brigham Youngs and Oklahoma States of college football, Cal State Long Beach was the “name” opponent. It was, at least, the rival in the old Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. days.

Though the 49ers may be a no-name among the others, they are still well known to SDSU. Long Beach has upset the Aztecs for the past two years at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

It is a most disturbing trend for SDSU as it attempts to become a nationally recognized team again. The Aztecs will try to make amends when they play Long Beach in their season opener at tonight at the stadium.

This is more than a nonconference game against a non-powerhouse. It is the beginning of Year No. 5 under Coach Doug Scovil, who has often spoken about his five-year program.

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At least one fifth-year senior recognizes the season’s importance.

“There’s no excuse for the coaches this year,” running back Casey Brown said. “They’re on a five-year program, and this is the fifth year. They need to win because that’s their schedule.”

If the Aztecs don’t win this year, it may be the end of Scovil. However, that’s a topic that won’t be debatable until later in the season.

In recent days, coaches have been trying to play down the pressure. Defensive coordinator Burnie Miller told San Diego sportswriters he won’t be getting uptight over the situation.

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Said Scovil: “Every year, there’s pressure. I don’t think of this differently than any other year. This is the first year we’ll benefit from our freshman redshirt program. From this year on, we’ll have good teams.”

Scovil was 6-5 and 7-5 his first two years with teams dominated by junior college transfers. He has finished 2-9-1 and 4-7-1 the past two seasons with younger players.

As the record has fallen, so have the home crowds. The Aztecs averaged 12,249 for their final two home games last year against New Mexico and Long Beach.

SDSU officials are anticipating a crowd of 30,000 tonight. But the biggest attraction may be a postgame fireworks show.

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“San Diego is a happening town,” said offensive tackle Dan Knight, a San Diego native. “I think that once people see us win a few games, they’ll start coming out. It’s like with the Chargers. They struggled a lot last year and their attendance dropped. There were times when you couldn’t get a ticket to see them.”

The Aztecs played two of their best games against nationally ranked teams before large crowds in 1984. They lost to UCLA at home, 18-15, before 50,318 fans, and were beaten at Oklahoma State, 19-16, before 46,500 fans. If the Aztecs play well tonight, they obviously hope to establish a fan following.

A loss would be critical in terms of hoping to break the .500 barrier. Later opponents include UCLA, Stanford, BYU, Oregon and Air Force.

“I’d say the first game is critical to a point,” cornerback LeRoy Wardell said. “We won’t rest our season on it, but it would be good for morale. We want to put a foundation in here.”

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Some think the foundation could lead a long way.

“We’re shooting for a bowl game, and the Holiday Bowl is on top of our list,” Brown said. “We have players talking of a championship. From what I’ve seen, if we get a little support like a first-game win, we may have a bunch of cocky football players playing over their heads.”

Aztec Notes Long Beach was upset in its opening game last week by Utah State, 19-17, on a 17-yard field goal with three seconds remaining. Quarterback Doug Gaynor completed a school-record 41 passes in 52 attempts for 354 yards. Gaynor was third in the nation in total offense and 10th in passing in 1984. Split end Charles Lockett was the nation’s second-leading receiver. Doug Scovil referred to both as “among the best I’ve seen at their position.” However, LeRoy Wardell was not as impressed. “They have good receivers, but we feel that not too many are better than our receivers,” Wardell said. “We’ve done well against our receivers in practice. Long Beach’s offense isn’t nearly as good as ours.” . . . Since Long Beach has played a game, Scovil thinks his team is at a disadvantage. “There’s nothing like game pressure,” he said. “We certainly played better our second game last year when we played a team (Oklahoma State) that hadn’t played a game. You never know what will happen the first game. That’s why I’m glad this is not a conference game.” The Aztecs began their 1984 season by losing a Western Athletic Conference game at Air Force, 34-16. . . . Long Beach has four San Diego products on its roster--linebacker Curtis Cummings (Morse High School, Grossmont College), linebacker Mac McKeever (San Pasqual High, Palomar College), defensive end Chuck Meierbachtol (Granite Hills High, Grossmont College) and wide receiver Tony Necoechea (Helix High, Grossmont College). Meierbachtol had 2 1/2 sacks and six tackles against Utah State. . . . SDSU leads thes series against Long Beach, 13-9. . . . The Aztecs are 34-25-3 in season openers. They are 45-15-2 in home openers, including a 16-2 record in openers at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. . . . SDSU has not opened at home since 1977 when it defeated Cal State Fullerton, 34-17. In the last seven years, the Aztecs are 1-6 while opening on the road. . . . Aztec kicker Chris O’Brien has succeeded on eight straight field goal attempts. His last miss was a 46-yarder at Hawaii on Oct. 27, 1984. . . . Sixteen of SDSU’s 22 starters tonight have started in at least one game for the Aztecs.


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