For those who had come to expect the high-scoring, free-wheeling, anything-goes games of the past, San Diego State found another way to play and to win Saturday night.
The Aztecs rallied to defeat Colorado State, 26-12, in the lowest-scoring game of the season.
The winning points came on a 13-yard touchdown pass play to tight end Kerry Reed-Martin from quarterback Todd Santos with 7:33 left to play. Santos then passed to Reed-Martin for the two-point conversion to give the Aztecs an 18-12 lead.
The touchdown came 13 plays after strong safety Harold Hicks stripped Colorado State quarterback Scooter Molander of the ball and recovered at the SDSU 28.
The Aztecs added to their advantage when tailback Paul Hewitt crashed over from the 1-yard line with 3:54 to play. It was Hewitt's only touchdown of the game after he scored three in each of his previous five games.
The combined 38 points was the lowest in an SDSU game this season, undercutting the 44 points scored in a 24-20 loss to Oregon Sept. 26.
But the relatively low scoring did not keep Santos from another milestone as be became the first player in major-college history to pass for more than 11,000 career yards. Santos completed 29 of 40 passes for 391 yards. That raised his National Collegiate Athletic Assn. Division I-A record total to 11,052 yards.
The victory was the Aztecs' third in the past four games and improved their record to 4-7 overall and 3-4 in the Western Athletic Conference. Colorado State dropped to 1-9 and 1-6.
The game, played in front of a crowd of 17,382, the smallest of the season at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, was quite a change from what Aztec fans have learned to expect.
After a series of home games in which their offense had been nearly unstoppable, averaging 44.3 points, the Aztecs had problems in the first half.
They lost two fumbles. Their starting left guard, Roman Fortin, was kicked out of the game, along with the Colorado State defensive end Doug Wills because they were fighting. And the return of freshman tailback Tommy Booker, who had missed four games with a sprained ankle, was punctuated by boos and laughter when he bobbled and dropped a pass after being wide open in Colorado State territory.
They still managed to lead, 10-9, and rolled up 248 yards in total offense, with all but four of those yards coming in the air. Hewitt, who had scored three touchdowns in each of the Aztecs' previous five games, was held without a score and gained only 23 yards in 7 carries in the half.
Colorado State scored first on a 47-yard field goal by freshman Mark Tyler with 3:01 left in the first quarter.
The Aztecs answered on their first possession of the second quarter when they quickly struck back on a 4-play, 77-yard drive that ended with a 43-yard pass play to wide receiver Alfred Jackson from Santos. Jackson got beyond the coverage of Colorado State cornerback Ron Tesone, caught Santos' pass and needed to make just one step into the end zone to score his seventh touchdown of the season. The Aztecs led, 7-3, with 13:42 left in the half.
Then came the fumbles.
The first was the most costly as wide receiver Monty Gilbreath fumbled after gaining four yards on a reception from Santos and cornerback Craig Jersid recovered at the SDSU 32 with 8:20 left in the second quarter.
Seven plays later, junior halfback Scott Whitehouse ran two yards for the touchdown. Actually, it was the second touchdown in the drive as Molander had a 21-yard touchdown pass play to Sanjay Beach called back because of holding penalty. Tyler missed the extra point wide left, and the Rams led, 9-7, with 5:50 to play.
The Rams had a chance to add to their lead when on the next series Santos lost the snap and defensive end Dan Martin recovered at the SDSU 44. But the Rams punted after gaining only only five yards.
The Aztecs took over at their 17-yard line with 2:17 left in the half and quickly went to work. Santos completed four consecutive passes, the last two to Reed-Martin for gains of 9 and 24 yards, to give the Aztecs a first down at the CSU 17 with 1:20 to play. But the drive stalled after a completion to Gilbreath brought the ball to the 13. The Aztecs settled for a 30-yard field goal by Tyler Ackerson with 32 seconds left to send them into the locker room with a 10-9 lead.
Santos was 17 of 23 for 244 yards in the first half.
Neither team did much offensively in the third quarter but it was the Rams who made the most of the least.
On their first possession, the Rams reached the SDSU 30 with the help of an 11-yard pass play to J.D. Brookhart from Molander and a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty against the Aztecs' Craig Skaggs.
The drive stalled but Tyler put the Rams back on top, 12-10, on a 48-yard field goal at 7:58.
The Aztecs had a chance to regain the lead when they were handed excellent field position at the CSU 32 after a short punt, but the drive went nowhere. Ackerson's 51-yard field goal attempt was wide right with seven seconds left in the third quarter.
The Aztecs finished the quarter with only 6 yards rushing against a team that had been allowing an average of 176.7 per game.
Casey Copeland, a junior transfer from West Valley College in Saratoga, Calif., made his first start at free safety in place of Lyndon Earley. It was the first change in the San Diego State starting secondary not related to an injury. . . . Running back Ron Slack, SDSU's leading receiver, did not play because of a thigh bruise. . . . Freshman fullback Kevin Macon sprained his knee in pregame warmups and did not play. . . . Alfred Jackson, who had a streak of 15 consecutive games with a reception broken the week before against Brigham Young, caught a pass on the Aztecs' first play. . . . Wide receiver Randy Peterson played for the first time since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery Oct. 15. . . . Senior cornerback Clarence Nunn will join quarterback Todd Santos and Coach Denny Stolz in the Japan Bowl in Tokyo Jan. 10. . . . The Aztecs close the season Saturday at home against winless New Mexico. Santos will have his No. 8 retired in a postgame ceremony. . . . Colorado State has games remaining at Southwest Louisiana Saturday and against Brigham Young Dec. 4 in Melbourne, Australia. . . . The 1987 Holiday Bowl at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium has been sold out, the earliest sellout in the 10-year history of the event, said Herb Klein, bowl president. The stadium seats 60,000 for the event, with 20,000 tickets held for the teams participating. The Holiday Bowl will be played Dec. 30, featuring the champion of the Western Athletic Conference and an at-large opponent. Klein said the Holiday Bowl is prepared to take a waiting list for tickets, if they should become available. Interested fans should call the Holiday Bowl ticket office at 283-5808.