Last of Hewitt’s 259 Yards Lifts Aztecs to 39-36 Win
For a little guy who has little to say, Paul Hewitt certainly finds a way to talk big on the football field.
Hewitt, San Diego State’s quiet tailback, spoke in actions louder than any words Sunday night, diving over from 1 yard with 24 seconds left to rally the Aztecs to a 39-36 Western Athletic Conference victory over Air Force and cap the busiest game ever by an Aztec runner.
The plunge, in front of 20,112 at the Aztecs’ home and conference opener at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, not only ended the Aztecs’ seven-game losing streak against the Falcons but gave Hewitt 259 yards and 4 touchdowns on a school-record 45 carries.
“I got tired in the third quarter,” said Hewitt, a senior from Monrovia. “But in the fourth quarter, I felt like it was the first quarter again.”
Hewitt’s winning touchdown finished off an Aztec drive that began after Air Force (1-1, 1-1 in WAC) had taken a 36-32 lead on halfback Greg Johnson’s 30-yard run with 3:02 to play.
The Aztecs (1-1, 1-0) turned around and drove 61 yards on 8 plays in 2:29 for the game winner. But it did not come without a few nervous moments.
The first came when quarterback Brad Platt fumbled a snap on a first and goal at the Air Force 7; offensive tackle Samida Tuiaana recovered at the 11. Platt, who in his second start was 24 of 35 for 299 yards and one interception, came right back with a 10-yard completion to split end Alfred Jackson.
The Aztecs called time out with 30 seconds left and then tried a pass to flanker Monty Gilbreath in the right corner of the end zone. It was overthrown, leaving the Aztecs with a fourth and goal at the Falcon 1.
This time there was little doubt that Hewitt, who led the nation with 24 touchdowns last season, would get the call.
“I was just thinking pressure,” Hewitt said. “I knew I had to get it in.”
The game-winning, 45th carry broke the record of 40 set by Derrick Harvey against Wyoming in 1982. It also gave Hewitt the second-best game rushing total in school history behind Jim Allison’s 271 yards against San Francisco State in 1964, before SDSU became a major-college team.
After seven frustrating years of losses, the Aztecs finally found a way to slow down Air Force and its wishbone offense--don’t let it on the field.
The Aztecs controlled the time of possession by 17 minutes (38:30 to 21:30) and outgained the Falcons in total offense (577-374). They went ahead, 32-29, on Tyler Ackerson’s 25-yard field goal with 4:50 to play. But it looked for a moment as if their effort would fail when Air Force needed just 6 running plays to drive 75 yards for the late go-ahead touchdown.
But Hewitt, Platt and the Aztec offense would not be denied.
“We (the offensive line) were so jacked up for that last play that I don’t think an NFL team could have stopped us,” center Kevin Wells said.
The Aztecs had built a 29-15 lead early in the second half on their longest drive of the game, 89 yards in 13 plays after a clip on the kickoff gave them the ball at the 11.
Hewitt carried the load, rushing 8 times for 37 yards. His final carry brought the ball to the Air Force 1. From there, the Aztecs elected to go for the touchdown on fourth down. Platt faked a handoff up the middle to Hewitt and then bootlegged left untouched into the end zone, the ball raised above his head.
The Aztecs led, 29-15, with 9:01 to play in the third quarter.
But the Falcon wishbone could not stay stopped forever. After having gained a total of only 15 yards in its previous three possessions, Air Force got rolling.
The Falcons started their drive at their 33 with the help of a 29-yard punt by freshman Bill Kushner, his first of the game. Air Force quarterback Dee Dowis, the WAC’s leading rusher last season who until then had gained only 28 yards in 4 carries, rushed 21 yards for the touchdown on a drive that was aided by an offsides penalty against the Aztecs on fourth and one at the SDSU 47. Air Force trailed, 29-22, with 57 seconds left in the quarter.
The Aztec offense, which had been near perfect, finally made a mistake, and the Falcons were there to take advantage. Platt’s pass for Hewitt slipped out of his hands when he was hit by two defenders and into the arms of Air Force tackle Tom Kafka at the Aztec 34.
Dowis rushed 20 yards to the 14 on first down and then on third down from the 12 found wide receiver Steve Senn open among Aztec defenders in the left corner of the end zone. It was Dowis’ first touchdown pass of the season and only the fifth in his career.
In less than two minutes, the Falcons had scored twice to tie the score at 29-29.
The Falcons started as if they were ready to make the Aztecs the victim of another one-wishbone rout. With the help of a short kickoff by Ackerson and a 28-yard return by Robert Krause, started their first series at their own 42.
They wasted no time getting the offense rolling. With four runners sharing the carries and Dowis completing his first pass of the season after seven misses, the Falcons reached third and one at Aztec 4.
Senior halfback Anthony Roberson took a pitch right from Dowis and dashed into the end zone for the first touchdown with 11:54 to play in the first quarter.
After an exchange of fumbles, it was the Aztecs’ turn to show off their offense. With Hewitt gaining 19 yards in 6 carries and 9 yards on a pass from Platt, SDSU drove to the Air Force 27. From there it was time for Hewitt to do what he does best--score.
Hewitt took a pitch right from Platt. He headed to the sideline, avoided a tackle attempt by linebacker Terry Walker that almost caused him to step out of bounds at the 10 and nimbly stayed on his feet to complete the 27-yard touchdown run. The score was tied, 7-7, with 3:09 to play in the first quarter.
The Aztecs went ahead on their next possession, and it was again Hewitt doing the bulk of the work. He carried 4 times for 39 yards as the Aztecs reached a first-and-goal at the Falcon 8. After fullback Jim Jennings rushed for six yards, Hewitt finished the drive with a two-yard run for his second touchdown with 11:10 left in the first half.
For all the concern about converting San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium to football from baseball, the changeover was completed in plenty of time for the 6:37 p.m. kickoff. The Padres cooperated by taking only 2 hours 8 minutes to beat Atlanta, 8-2. The stadium crew immediately went to work, starting its task as soon as the final out was made at 2:14 p.m. The conversion took only 3 hours 17 minutes, a record by three minutes according to Bill Wilson, the stadium manager.
ONE-GAME AZTEC RUSHING PERFORMANCES
Player Year Opponent Att. Yards Jim Allison 1964 San Francisco State 20 271 Paul Hewitt 1988 Air Force 45 259 Kern Carson 1962 Fresno State NA 236 Chris Hardy 1985 Colorado State 20 235 Chris Hardy 1985 Texas El Paso 19 223