They have been bright spots throughout a mostly frustrating season. Patrick Rowe and Dennis Arey, together, like a fisherman and his net, catching nearly everything in sight.
Arey caught eight passes for 105 yards, giving him 1,020 yards for the season. Rowe has 1,290. Thus, the Aztecs become only the second team in NCAA history to have two receivers catch 1,000 or more yards worth of passes. The first was Houston, in 1988, when James Dixon and Jason Phillips accomplished it.
"It was like something that was a weight," Arey said. "Now, I don't have to worry about it. It's something I never imagined."
And that's not all. Rowe caught seven passes for 161 yards, enabling him to tie the NCAA record and break the SDSU record with eight consecutive games in which he has had 100 or more yards receiving. Rowe joined Tulsa's Howard Twilley (1965) and Fresno State's Henry Ellard (1982) in the NCAA record book.
Rowe's 1,290 yards also established a school single-season receiving record, surpassing the mark of 1,272 set by Gary Garrison in 1964.
This came in front a season-low crowd of 13,927 in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. Rowe kept what was left of the crowd in suspense--he didn't cross the 100-yard mark until 1:41 remained in the game, and he needed a 68-yard touchdown pass from Cree Morris to do it. That gave SDSU a 58-23 lead.
At the end of his run, the entire Aztec bench raced into the end zone and joined the celebration.
UTEP, though, was not impressed. There was a skirmish after the game as the teams were heading for the locker rooms, and the Aztecs said UTEP thought SDSU was trying to run the score up.
"I don't know how it's going to be looked at," Rowe said. "But I had no intention of running up the score. I'd like to apologize to the UTEP Miners. We were just trying to get the record."
It was quite a night. The Aztecs clinched consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1981-82 and, when everything was wrapped up, they wandered out of their locker room and into the night hoping to have finished in a tie for second in the Western Athletic Conference.
This was one SDSU Coach Al Luginbill wanted badly. With No. 2 Miami up next in the season finale, their prospects for a winning season didn't look good unless they defeated UTEP.
They were able to accomplish that thanks to a tight second-half defense, four second-half touchdowns, and three Andy Trakas field goals--45, 24 and 35 yards.
They finished with 688 yards of total offense to UTEP's 307. Quarterback Dan McGwire completed 26 of 38 passes for 344 yards. For the first time this season, he didn't throw a touchdown pass. Back-up Cree Morris threw two in the fourth quarter, though. One was Rowe's 68-yarder and the other was a 17-yarder to Jimmy Raye.
UTEP was able to stay relatively close though the first half thanks to several Aztec mistakes.
A pass interference call on Chris Johnson helped the Miners toward their first touchdown. With nine minutes to play in the first quarter, on second-and-17 from the SDSU 26, Johnson shoved Ricki Lopez from behind as the ball approached them. Lopez fell, and a flag followed shortly thereafter.
That gave UTEP the ball at the SDSU 11, and Howard Gasser dumped a short pass to freshman Ray Ross, who was cutting across the middle. Ross caught the ball, put several moves on free safety Damon Pieri and at least two other Aztecs, and scurried into the end zone.
Pio Sagapolutele blocked Jason Gillespie's point after attempt, and the Aztecs maintained the lead--which they had taken on a two-yard Curtis Butts touchdown run--7-6.
But two minutes later, Aztec special teams broke down. After a 45-yard Andy Trakas field goal put SDSU ahead, 10-6, Ross returned the kick 99 yards for a touchdown. Ross fielded the ball at the UTEP 1, broke straight up the middle, made it through the seam and easily beat Trakas. It was the second-longest kickoff return by an opponent in Aztec history.
It wasn't the last time UTEP took advantage of first quarter Aztec mistakes. After another Trakas field goal--this one a 24-yarder--gave SDSU a 16-10 lead, UTEP moved into SDSU territory on a roughing-the-passer call. Gasser was hit late on second-and-12 from the UTEP 40, and the penalty put the Miners at the SDSU 45. After an incomplete pass, Gasser again connected with Ross, who made a big-time, diving catch at the SDSU 18. Four plays later, Gillespie kicked a 31-yard field goal to give UTEP a 16-13 lead.
The Aztec offense, though, had more weapons. T.C. Wright went right up the middle for a 47-yard touchdown run on SDSU's next possession, and then, with just 1:55 left in the second quarter, Wright scored from the 1 to cap a 13-play, 89-yard drive.
Wright finished the first half with 123 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.
But the Aztecs had four penalties for 50 yards, and the special teams breakdown. That's why the Miners were able to hang close despite being outgained in the half, 314-123, and why they they were able to match their per-game scoring average of 16 (100th in the nation) in the first quarter.
Just in case you're still not convinced that passing dominates the Western Athletic Conference: SDSU's T.C. Wright entered Saturday's game third in the conference in rushing--with an average of just 60.50 yards a game.... Also entering Saturday's game, kicker Andy Trakas led the WAC in scoring at 9.22 points a game.... Defensive end Jason Swaney played football at Coronado High in El Paso.... And they wonder why there's no atmosphere in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium: As fans filtered in before the game Saturday, they were greeted by music videos on the DiamondVision. Supposedly, one of the benefits of the DiamondVision is that other games could be shown. And USC was playing Notre Dame... and this was a college football evening. But no. Music videos. Then, during a change of possession with 6:54 left in the first half, a "Don't Be a Waterhog" jingle was played over the public address system. Problem was, it wasn't a timeout. The SDSU offense lined up, the ball was snapped, and quarterback Dan McGwire handed off to Wright ... and through it all, the "Don't Be a Waterhog" song continued.
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