Tim Gutierrez may have surprised the fans at Falcon Stadium with his cool under fire, but he didn't surprise San Diego State Coach Al Luginbill or his teammates.
Gutierrez, a junior backup to quarterback David Lowery, entered the game with less than a quarter to make up a 17-point deficit and picked the Air Force defense apart for a 38-31 victory in a Western Athletic Conference showdown.
Lowery left the game with 12:40 remaining because of a calf injury and Gutierrez immediately completed four passes.
Before he was through, Gutierrez completed 13 of 21 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns to wideout Darnay Scott.
"That's Tim," Luginbill said afterward. "That position has been close between the two of them, but Tim hasn't had the opportunity earlier because he's beenhurt."
Lowery had completed 13 of 28 passes for 206 yards, but he "didn't seem to have any zip on the ball," Luginbill said. "We had to attack the perimeter and Tim allowed us to do that. I don't know if David had a problem because of his injury or what."
Gutierrez's first drive ended with a 28-yard field goal by Peter Holt that cut the margin to 31-17, then he combined with Scott on a 19-yard scoring pass to cut the deficit to 31-24 with 10:23 left.
With 3:57 left, Marshall Faulk scored his third touchdown and Holt kicked the extra point to even the score, 31-31.
The Aztecs got the ball back on their own 37-yard line with 1:51 left after an Air Force punt. Gutierrez drove his team to the deciding touchdown, which came on a 36-yard pass to Scott on fourth and five. Scott beat two defenders and caught the ball in the corner of the end zone.
Scott finished with 11 receptions for 217 yards.
The victory gave the Aztecs a 2-1 overall record and 1-0 in the WAC. Air Force is 1-2, 0-2.
Faulk gained 106 yards in 24 carries along with his three touchdowns.
Until Gutierrez entered the game, it appeared Air Force sophomore quarterback Demond Cash would be the hero.
Cash, who started when Scott Teigen was unable to play because of sore ribs, rushed for 172 yards and scored a touchdown on an 18-yard quarterback draw with 12:40 left. That gave the Falcons a 31-14 lead.
But with 10:28 remaining, Cash fumbled a snap from center and safety John McCartney recovered on the Air Force 19. Five seconds later, Gutierrez found Scott in the end zone.