Football coaches tend to dread season openers because so many things can go so wrong.
However, San Diego State Coach Doug Scovil had little to worry about Saturday as his Aztecs beat Cal State Long Beach, 34-14, in front of 30,866 fans at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
The Aztec offense, which did not score a touchdown in the first half, tallied 24 points in the second.
The Aztec defense limited 49er quarterback Doug Gaynor to 195 yards passing. Last week, Gaynor passed for 354 yards in a 19-17 loss to Utah State.
And the punt-return team scored the Aztecs’ first touchdown as Alfred Jackson blocked a punt that LeRoy Wardell recovered on the two-yard line and returned for a touchdown.
“They all played well,” Scovil said of his three units. “The special teams played really well in the beginning and got us going.”
The offense got going in the second half behind the passing of Todd Santos. After throwing for just 64 yards in the first half, Santos ended the evening with 209 yards and two touchdowns.
Webster Slaughter was Santo’s favorite receiver, catching five passes for 114 yards and one touchdown. Slaughter’s 49-yard touchdown on the final play of the third quarter gave the Aztecs a 27-14 lead.
“At halftime, Coach Scovil emphasized that the offense had not been moving the ball well,” Santos said. “We ran a lot more draws and play-action the second half. It caused their linebackers to come up and leave the middle open occasionally.”
Almost everything was going SDSU’s way early in the game. After the first Aztec possession, Wayne Ross punted to the Long Beach 4. The 49ers followed with a 77-yard drive to the Aztec 19, but Dave Caylor missed a 36-yard field goal attempt.
Santos passed 21 yards to Slaughter and Corey Gilmore rushed 12 yards on the next two plays. SDSU moved to the Long Beach five before Chris O’Brien was called upon for a 22-yard field goal with 2:32 left in the quarter.
When Dana Ramsey punted on Long Beach’s next possession, the Aztecs recorded their key special teams play. Jackson blocked the punt at the 25, the ball rolled several yards, Wardell recovered it on the two and ran it in for the score.
“Our two cornerbacks are responsible for going after the ball on every punt,” Wardell said. “If one guy blocks the punt, the other one hangs and gets the scoop. That was my responsibility.”
Wardell had another apparent touchdown early in the second quarter, blocking a Caylor field-goal attempt and returning it 80 yards. However, the touchdown was called back because of a block below the waist.
Following the wasted runback, SDSU netted minus-eight yards on its next three plays. Ross punted just 29 yards to the Long Beach 48.
The 49ers scored four plays later on Martin Sartin’s 13-yard run. Michael Roberts had rushed 27 yards on the first play of the drive.
San Diego State led at halftime, 10-7, despite being dominated statistically. Long Beach held the edge in total yards the first half, 231 to 141.
The Aztecs finally got a touchdown drive together on their first possession after halftime, moving 61 yards on eight plays. Chris Hardy scored on a seven-yard run, giving the Aztecs a 17-7 lead.
O’Brien gave the Aztecs a 20-7 lead with a 46-yard field goal at 9:05 into the third quarter. It was O’Brien’s 10th straight successful field goal, one short of tying the Western Athletic Conference record.
Long Beach received a break later in the quarter when Slaughter fumbled away a punt at the Aztec 26. Gaynor hit Charles Lockett on a five-yard touchdown pass with 2:32 left in the quarter, cutting SDSU’s lead to 20-14.
However, Slaughter wasted little time in making amends for his mistake. On the third quarter’s last play, he scored on the 49-yard pass play from Santos.
Two Aztecs recorded career firsts to give their team a 34-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Kenny Moore, a defensive back-turned-wide receiver, had his first career reception on a 23-yard pass from Santos on the touchdown drive. Brett Blanchard concluded the drive with his first Aztec touchdown, catching an eight-yard pass from Santos.
Cal State Long Beach 0 7 7 0--14
San Diego State 10 0 17 7--34
FIRST QUARTER Aztecs 3, 49ers 0 O’Brien 22-yard field goal at 12:28. 75-yard drive, 9 plays. Key gains--Slaughter, 21 and 16, passes from Santos; Gilmore, 12, run.
Aztecs 10, 49ers 0 Wardell recovery of punt blocked by Jackson at 13:32. PAT--O’Brien (kick).
SECOND QUARTER Aztecs 10, 49ers 7 Sartin 13-yard run at 4:25. 51-yard drive, 4 plays. Key gain--Roberts, 27, run. PAT--Caylor (kick).
THIRD QUARTER Aztecs 17, 49ers 7 Hardy 7-yard run at 5:17. 61-yard drive, 8 plays. Key gains--Gilmore, 11 and 14; Warren 11, passes from Santos. PAT--O’Brien (kick).
Aztecs 20, 49ers 7 O’Brien 46-yard field goal at 9:05. 17-yard drive, 5 plays. Key gain--Hardy, 11, run.
Aztecs 20, 49ers 14 Lockett 5-yard pass from Gaynor at 12:28. 26-yard drive, 4 plays. Key play--15-yard pass interference penalty against Wilder on pass from Gaynor to Ory. PAT--Caylor (kick).
Aztecs 27, 49ers 14 Slaughter, 49-yard pass from Santos at 15:00. 66-yard drive, 5 plays. PAT--O’Brien (kick).
FOURTH QUARTER Aztecs 34, 49ers 14 Blanchard 8-yard pass from Santos at 7:04. 56-yard drive, 4 plays. Key gains--Laughton, 21; Moore 23, passes from Santos. PAT--O’Brien (kick).
Field goals missed--Caylor (CSLB) 2 (36, 24).