San Diego State won another duel of brinkmanship Saturday, hanging on for a 24-22 victory over Wyoming, and Robert Griffith and Terrill Steen emerged from the danger zone into the spotlight.
On a night when the Aztecs were outgained by nearly 100 yards and Wyoming scored twice on the first play from scrimmage, the Aztecs again survived on big plays at the right time.
Griffith, who plays the dimeback role, combining aspects of both cornerback and linebacker, was in the right place twice in the first half, blocking a punt that led to a touchdown and causing a fumble that resulted in another as the Aztecs built a 21-0 lead.
Linebacker Steen stood out on the last play of the game, blocking a Wyoming field goal attempt that could have won the game. Though it was from 57 yards, Griffith said, "That ball was going. If you heard the sound of that ball--it sounded like a shot."
Both players said the Aztecs weren't especially pleased with their performance Saturday, "but we're getting to be a team that makes the plays when we need to," Griffith said. "We can't put ourselves in that position every week."
Steen said he thought the team played hard but "took plays off." When it came down to the last series, he said, "The defense got together and said 'We gotta make the plays.' That's when we made 'em."
In the first half it looked like the Aztecs would romp. After they took a 7-0 lead, Griffith blitzed and broke up a handoff at Wyoming's 19-yard line. The fumble was recovered by Lou Foster at the 12 and the Aztecs scored in three plays.
"I got there when the ball was exchanged, I saw the handoff, I put my hand in there and good things happened," said Griffith, a junior in his second year as a starter, who leads the Western Athletic Conference with four fumbles caused.
Wyoming was held on downs on its next possession and with Sean Fleming punting from his 10, Griffith broke through and dived, tipping the kick. Cornerback Zac Stokes picked up the ball at the five and scored easily, for a three-touchdown lead.
"We had a block on," Griffith said of the play. "I came in pretty much free. I didn't think I was gonna block it, I didn't think I was close enough, but I kind of dove and stuck my hands out. I thought I was too late but I happened to block it. Then we had some alert players who jumped on it."
The alertness seemed to abandon the Aztecs after that.
Wyoming quarterback Tom Corontzos continually burned them for big plays in the second half, finishing with 403 yards including a 70-yard touchdown strike on the first play of a fourth-quarter drive.
"We didn't tackle good at all," Griffith said. "I missed a routine tackle on that touchdown. I went for the strip and didn't come up with it."
Wyoming got one more try in the final minute, driving from its 20 to SDSU's 40. With time running out, Fleming was sent in to try a 57-yard kick. He booted it on a low trajectory, Steen burst in almost untouched, blocked the kick and came up dancing as time ran out.
"The way they were (blocking) there was a gap there all night. It was there on extra points, too," Steen said. "I knew the gap would be there. I got a good jump and the ball hit me right up between the arms. It hit me hard. He got all of his foot into it. I don't know if it would've been good but I think it had the distance. It hit me and I thought, 'Thank God.' "
So far it's been a season on the brink, but for the last five weeks, SDSU's opponents have been the first to blink.