SDSU Kicking Itself After Tie : College football: Aztecs, sparked by Faulk’s 220 yards rushing, miss chances in final minute. USC manages 31-31 tie.


San Diego State’s trigger finger froze again.

Picking up in the general vicinity in which they left off last season--on the outside looking in--the Aztecs bumbled their way to a season-opening 31-31 tie in their first meeting with USC.

In front of 52,168 in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium--the Aztecs’ third-largest home crowd ever--two missed field goals and a dropped pass in the final minute dredged up eerie memories of last season’s 52-52 tie with Brigham Young.

The fact that the Aztecs have 10 more games, including a full Western Athletic Conference menu, didn’t console them.


Coach Al Luginbill ripped the visor off of his head in anger on the sidelines when wide-open receiver Keith Williams dropped a pass on the USC 23 with three seconds remaining. Had Williams hung on, it would have shortened a game-ending field-goal attempt by at least 15 yards.

Afterward, Luginbill’s face was flushed and his voice cracked noticeably.

Andy Trakas, who missed field-goal attempts of 30 and 55 yards in the final minute, was distraught.

And sophomore Marshall Faulk, who gained 220 yards rushing and 242 in total offense, was in tears in the locker room afterward and asked not to speak with reporters.

What could they say?

“This football team has the hearts of lions,” Luginbill said. “When they learn to execute every snap of every game, they’re going to be tough to handle.”

After a pause, Luginbill added: “I want you to know, ties are getting damn boring.”

It was an uneven afternoon on which the Aztecs fell behind, 21-7, stormed back with 24 third-quarter points and then watched USC’s Cole Ford kick a 32-yard field goal with 5:36 left to tie the game.

SDSU is 0-2-2 in its last four games since blowing a four-touchdown lead and the WAC championship in the BYU game last November. A loss to Miami and another to Tulsa in the Freedom Bowl followed.

Then, for the second consecutive time in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, they came away from the big game with a tie.

“I don’t know what the hell this feels like, to tell you the truth,” said quarterback David Lowery, who completed 17 of 39 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. “I’ll wake up (this morning) and say, ‘We had it.’

“I’m tired of waking up and saying that. We had it in our grasp and, again, we let it slip away.”

The Aztecs are winless in 19 consecutive games--and 22 of 23--against opponents who do not play in the Western Athletic Conference or Big West Conference. They are winless in 14 consecutive games against Pac 10 foes.

When, the Aztecs wonder, will they catch a break?

“Hopefully in my lifetime,” Lowery said. “I’m tired of being on the edge. We’ve been on the edge how long?”

They were on the edge of jubilation for the game’s final three minutes, almost all of which were played in USC territory.

After Ford’s game-tying field goal, the Aztecs moved to the Trojan 14 with 58 seconds left, thanks in large part to Faulk’s 30-yard run around right end.

But Trakas’ 30-yard attempt sailed wide left.

SDSU’s Damon Pieri, though, intercepted a Rob Johnson pass at the Aztec 47 at 0:17.

Lowery promptly fired a 15-yard completion to Darnay Scott, taking the Aztecs to the USC 38.

With the crowd at fever pitch, Lowery passed to Williams, who was left uncovered at the USC 23, on the next play. The ball bounced around in Williams’ hands . . . and dropped to the ground.

“I tried to run with it before I caught it,” Williams said. “I knew there was room for me to score if I caught it.”

Trakas’ 55-yard attempt with three seconds left was long enough but wide to the right.

“It’s just kind of a blur,” said Trakas, who also missed a field goal late in the BYU tie and a conversion kick in last season’s 21-20 loss to Air Force. “It’s an unbelievable feeling. What do you say? The worst part is, these guys have busted their butts, and to blow it for them. . . .”

Said Luginbill: “The kicker is either a hero or not. Obviously, Andy is not.

“He came so doggone close on that last one that everybody would have forgotten about (the missed first attempt).”

What a way to open the season.

“If he had made that last field goal, I think I would be in there puking my brains out,” said Chris Allen, USC defensive coordinator.

It was an afternoon of drops, shanks and misses. Thanks to Faulk, though, the Aztecs nearly sent the Trojans to their seventh consecutive loss.

He scored on runs of 1, 11 and 59 yards. He ran around, over and through the USC defense. It was the seventh consecutive game in which Faulk gained 100 or more yards and the fifth time he has collected two or more touchdowns in a game.

“He’s a great, great back,” USC Coach Larry Smith said. “He’s everything we expected. He’s probably one of the top two or three in the country. Maybe the best.”

But thanks to an SDSU defense that allowed 443 total yards, the Trojans kept up with Faulk.

USC’s first touchdown, a 22-yard Johnson pass to Curtis Conway, was set up when new SDSU punter Scott Oatsvall, working out of his end zone, shanked one 16 yards.

After Faulk’s one-yard touchdown run, Johnson completed a 24-yard touchdown pass to Johnnie Morton and then, with 1:58 left in the second quarter, Johnson and Morton hooked up for a 17-yard touchdown pass play.

USC led, 21-7.

The Aztecs, though, got a 38-yard Trakas field goal on their first possession of the third quarter and then watched Faulk go through left tackle for an 11-yard touchdown run with 8:38 left in the quarter.

Lowery fumbled the two-point conversion snap, and the score was 21-16.

Three minutes later, with SDSU on the move again, Darnay Scott leaped and grabbed a Lowery pass away from USC defensive back Jason Oliver for a touchdown.

This time, SDSU was successful on the two-point conversion--a Lowery pass to Williams--and the Aztecs had their first lead, 24-21. After Morton’s third touchdown reception 3 1/2 minutes later gave USC a 28-24 lead, Faulk burst outside and outran the USC secondary for a 59-yard touchdown, giving the Aztecs a 31-28 edge.

The only thing that did, though, was reacquaint the Aztecs with frustration and send them toward Thursday’s game at BYU a little more empty.

“I apologize for being a little testy, but I don’t feel real damn good right now,” Luginbill said. “This thing needs to turn.

“I don’t think I’ll ever look forward to a game more than Thursday night’s. I wish we were playing it (tonight).”