SDSU Strong Arms Wyoming, 31-24, in Drive for WAC Title

Times Staff Writer

Lyndon Earley of San Diego State had one thing to take away from Wyoming on Saturday night--a football game.

And that's exactly what he did. Earley caused two lost fumbles that enabled the Aztecs to defeat Wyoming, 31-24, before 20,168 fans in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

Earley's second caused fumble was most important.

Wyoming had been driving toward what might have been a winning touchdown and two-point conversion.

But on a pass play from the Aztec 11, Earley stripped the ball from receiver James Loving and recovered at the seven with 1:33 remaining.

End of game for Wyoming, continuation of a possible drive toward the Western Athletic Conference championship for SDSU.

"You just stick your arm in, and as your arm goes down, you strip the ball out," Earley said. "It paid off tonight."

SDSU is 5-1 in the WAC and needs to beat Hawaii and Brigham Young in the final two games to claim its first WAC championship. Wyoming is 4-3 in conference play.

Wyoming's Craig Burnett set records for passes completed (37) and attempted (65) against SDSU. He passed for 396 yards and 3 touchdowns with 2 interceptions.

SDSU's Todd Santos was 15 of 28 for 236 yards and 2 touchdowns with 2 interceptions. Santos has passed for 7,132 yards in his career, fifth on the WAC's all-time list.

Chris Hardy helped balance SDSU's offense, rushing 28 times for 116 yards.

Wyoming was penalized 14 times for 125 yards. SDSU was penalized 8 times for 43 yards.

The Cowboys outgained SDSU, 495 yards to 334.

"It was one of those games where a break would decide it," Wyoming Coach Dennis Erickson said. "They had more than we did."

Through much of the first quarter, the ball was deep in SDSU's territory.

Wyoming drove 58 yards to the Aztec two-yard line on its first possession, only to have Earley strip the ball from Anthony Sargent. Mike Wilder recovered for SDSU. From the two, SDSU advanced five yards in three downs. Sargent returned a Wayne Ross punt 24 yards to SDSU's 22, but Wyoming was penalized 15 yards for clipping on the return.

The Cowboys then passed on six consecutive plays, scoring on a 14-yard pass from Burnett to Eric Coleman.

Corey Gilmore returned the ensuing kickoff 64 yards to Wyoming's 23.

The Aztecs netted minus-four yards their next two plays, but Santos threw a 14-yard pass to Anthony Conyers on third down. Santos later scored on a one-yard run, the first rushing touchdown in his SDSU career.

Sargent returned the kickoff 40 yards to SDSU's 48. Eight plays later, Sargent scored on a six-yard pass from Burnett.

Early in the second quarter, both offenses stalled.

However, SDSU later began moving from its 34 on Chris Hardy's 26-yard run and a 16-yard pass from Santos to Conyers.

The drive concluded when Robert Awalt caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Santos with 7:58 remaining in the half. Kevin Rahill's extra-point attempt was wide right, leaving Wyoming with a 14-13 lead.

The Cowboys drove to SDSU's nine their next possession, only to have Greg Worker kick wide right on a 26-yard field goal attempt.

Wyoming again reached SDSU territory late in the half but Steve Lauter intercepted Burnett's pass at the 16 with 1:05 remaining.

Burnett had an outstanding half, completing 20 of 30 passes for 219 yards and 2 touchdowns with an interception. Santos was 8 of 17 for 72 yards and a touchdown with an interception.

Wyoming outgained the Aztecs in the half, 250 yards to 139, but the Cowboys were penalized 7 times for 65 yards. SDSU was penalized 3 times for 14 yards in the half.

On the second half's opening drive, Wyoming's Gerald Abraham was spotlighted. Abraham had runs of 44 and 18 yards, and he scored on a seven-yard touchdown pass from Burnett.

SDSU had its longest pass of the season on the ensuing drive, a 49-yarder from Santos to Brett Blanchard to Wyoming's 22. On the next play, Santos threw an 18-yard pass to Conyers.

The Aztecs scored two plays later on Gilmore's two-yard run. Awalt caught a two-point conversion pass from Santos, tying the game, 21-21.

On SDSU's next possession, it drove to Wyoming's 21. However, Santos' intended pass for Conyers was intercepted in the end zone by Stevie Joe Clayton.

Aztec linebacker Richard Brown recovered a fumbled snap at Wyoming's 29 on the next series, setting up a bizarre 11-play drive that covered 16 yards.

Gilmore had a 17-yard touchdown run nullified by holding on the drive. The Aztecs lost 13 yards in two plays after first and goal at the three. Wyoming was penalized for pass interference on Conyers in the end zone on a third-down play. The Aztecs lost 11 yards in two plays after first and goal at the two.

Finally, Rahill's 30-yard field goal ended the drive, giving SDSU a 24-21 lead with 2:28 left in the third quarter.

The Aztec lead increased to 31-21 on Conyers' 35-yard touchdown pass play from Santos 2:50 into the fourth quarter. Conyers caught the ball at the 23 and put fakes on two defenders before scoring.

But the game was far from over.

Wyoming drove 60 yards to the Aztec 26 on its next possession, settling for a 43-yard field goal by Worker with 9:19 remaining.

SDSU started its next drive from the 14, losing 11 yards in three plays. Sargent returned the ensuing punt from SDSU's 38 to 25, but Wyoming was again penalized for clipping.

The Cowboys drove to the 16 before Mario Mitchell intercepted Burnett in the end zone.

Wyoming was to have one more possession, but Earley stripped the Cowboys of their chance to come from behind.

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