Aztecs Endure Wyoming Rally : College football: SDSU wins, 24-22, and moves into second place in the WAC.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There was a deafening cheer in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium at 9:14 Saturday night when it was announced that New Mexico had pulled a stunning upset over Air Force.

The screaming and dancing by the San Diego State football team began at 9:20 p.m., as soon as Terrill Steen blocked a last-second 57-yard Wyoming field-goal attempt and sealed a 24-22 SDSU victory.

And at 9:25 p.m., the SDSU band, crushed together in a small stadium hallway, played the school fight song outside the Aztec locker room door as players tumbled inside and headed for the stretch.

After nine weeks, two defeats and a thousand dreams, what the 1991 SDSU season has come down to is this: The Aztecs (7-2, 5-1), thanks to the Air Force loss, now control their own destiny. They defeat Colorado State next Saturday and Brigham Young the following Saturday, they go to the Holiday Bowl for the first time since 1986.

Unexpected? Unthinkable?

Does the NCAA mandate that players' feet touch the ground when they float from the field into the locker room?

It was a blur of a night and a heck of a homecoming for the Aztecs.

Big plays? Try a forced fumble and a blocked punt in the first half, both of which led to touchdowns, and a blocked field goal in the fourth quarter, which leads to next week.

Irony? This game came wrapped in it, in the form of a two-point conversion.

SDSU was able to preserve its biggest victory since 1986 by stopping a Wyoming two-point conversion with 5:51 to play.

Which made up for one of SDSU's lowest moments in recent years. That came last season in Laramie, Wyo., when the Aztecs lost a 52-51 disaster when they missed a two-point conversion attempt with about two minutes to play.

"When I looked up at the score and their offense was on the field (attempting a two-point conversion), it was the opposite of last year," wide receiver Patrick Rowe said. "I was just thinking so many thoughts on the sideline. . . . I said, 'We can't blow it now.' "

They didn't. Wyoming had pulled to within two, 24-22, on a 70-yard pass from Tom Corontzos to Ryan Yarborough with 5:51 to play. The Cowboys then lined up for the conversion pass, with the crowd of 35,961 standing, and Corontzos faded back to pass . . . threw . . . and the ball bounced off the back of defensive back Gary Taylor, who was starting his first game since a groin injury against New Mexico Oct. 12.

Wyoming got the ball twice more. SDSU forced the Cowboys to punt from their 10 with just over two minutes left. Wyoming then got the ball back with 53 seconds remaining and moved from its 20 to the SDSU 40 before Steen put a forearm shiver on the Cowboys.

The victory clinched SDSU's third consecutive winning season--the first time the Aztecs have put that many together since a span of 17 between 1961 and 1977. It also was their seventh victory this year, the first time the Aztecs have won that many in a season since the Holiday Bowl year of 1986, when they were 8-4.

It wasn't easy. SDSU Coach Al Luginbill said the Aztecs didn't play well.

"We were very, very fortunate," he said. "(Wyoming) played their tails off. We came up with the big plays when we had to."

But he perked up.

"All I know is we're 7-2 and Air Force lost," he said. "And we've got a shot. We'll see what happens over the next two weeks."

Said quarterback David Lowery: "We've got a great opportunity. We should send New Mexico a thank you card. It's up to us now. We control our own destiny. We've got to win the next two weeks--that's all there is to it."

Wyoming had 99 more total yards--514-415--than SDSU. It came via a huge passing advantage--403 yards to 241. Four times, SDSU got inside the Wyoming 20--and the Aztecs had only a field goal to show for it.

"I don't know," Lowery said. "Our offense was moving the ball, we just didn't get it in the end zone.

"We've just got to get the damn thing in the end zone."

Undoubtedly, SDSU caught its share of breaks. In the second quarter, Wyoming scored an apparent touchdown, but one official overruled another to nullify it.

And in the fourth quarter on fourth-and-goal from the Wyoming 3, SDSU had a personnel mix-up and had to call two consecutive time outs.

"I take responsibility for that," Luginbill said. "Thank goodness it didn't cost us the game."

Several times, SDSU could have blown this one.

"They've been scared, believe me," Luginbill said.

Said running back Wayne Pittman: "That was scary."

Pittman gained 147 yards. He has started three games and gone over 100 yards in all of them. Merton Harris had five catches for 112 yards--his first 100-plus receiving game. Lowery completed 14 of 28 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns.

Heroes were everywhere Saturday night.

Wyoming started well, but SDSU's defense toughened when it needed to. The Cowboys drove from their 25 to the SDSU 9 on their first possession, but SDSU held Wyoming on second and third downs from the 9.

Then, Sean Fleming was wide left on a 27-yard field goal attempt.

So SDSU took over, marched all the way to the Wyoming 16 . . . and missed on a pass attempt on fourth-and-three.

Four minutes later, sustained drives gave way to quick strikes.

SDSU received a Fleming punt--using the word loosely, because it traveled only 19 yards--at the Wyoming 47 with 2:56 left in the half, and on the Aztecs' first play from scrimmage, Lowery faked a handoff and fired a 47-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Rowe.

Just your basic touchdown drive: one play, 47 yards, six seconds.

So the Aztecs, leading, 7-0, kicked off and had to wait only 50 seconds for another big play. This one came on Wyoming's second play from scrimmage, when Robert Griffith stripped the ball from Cowboy quarterback Tom Corontzos and Lou Foster fell on it.

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