SAN JOSE -- Out of San Diego State's four losses last season, it felt like the one that got away.
Last year, SDSU took a 24-17 lead over San Jose State into the fourth quarter at Qualcomm Stadium, but then Spartans quarterback David Fales threw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter (including the game-winning score with 50 seconds left) to leave San Diego with an emphatic, come-from-behind 38-34 victory.
So it was only fitting that the Aztecs would return the favor a year later.
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SDSU (5-4, 4-1 MW) outscored San Jose State 22-7 in the fourth quarter to turn an 11-point deficit into a 34-30 win Saturday night in San Jose.
"I don't think last year's game had anything to do with this game," head coach Rocky Long smiled. "Both teams played extremely hard and it was a great football game. We were just able to make enough plays in the fourth quarter to win the game."
The turning point came in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, with SJSU up 23-12 and lining up to attempt a field goal. SDSU's Damontae Kazee blocked the kick, Nat Berhe recovered the ball and returned it 56 yards to the Spartans' 34-yard line.
On the very next play, running back Donnel Pumphrey rumbled into the end zone for a touchdown.
So instead of SJSU increasing its lead to 14 with a field goal, the Aztecs pulled to within three after the TD run and a successful two-point conversion.
"That was the biggest momentum shift," Long said. "Our team really believed that we had a chance to win after the blocked field goal."
SJSU fired back when Fales hit Tim Crawley for a 12-yard score to make it 30-20 with 9:51 left in the game, but a Quinn Kaehler (235 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) TD pass to tight end Adam Roberts and a 12-yard touchdown run by Adam Muema (113 yards, two TD's) gave the Aztecs a 34-30 lead, and cornerback J.J. Whittaker sealed the victory when he picked off Fales (Whittaker's first career interception) and SDSU was able to run the clock out.
"I don't think our team ever quits," Long said. "They've proven that all year long and no matter what the situation is, they keep playing hard and tonight they were able to make enough plays to win the game so we feel a whole lot better about playing hard."
Kicking troubles continue
The Aztecs almost kicked themselves out of the game on Saturday.
Seamus McMorrow had a 35-yard field goal attempt and a PAT attempt blocked in the first half, then missed a 38-yarder in the third quarter. Wes Feer also had a PAT blocked.
"The kicking game was terrible," Long said. "Almost as bad as it can get except we made two extra points. We work on it all the time and the players have been working hard. They're who we have, so we're going to continue working and hopefully they'll get out of their funk and start making some field goals for us.
"They have to just get to where they're able to do it in a game. It's probably a psychological problem right now."
With under five minutes remaining and SDSU down by three, Long opted to go for it on 4th-and-7 from the SJSU 23-yard line instead of attempting another field goal. The gamble paid off, as Kaehler hit Colin Lockett for an 11-yard reception and Muema scored on the very next play to give SDSU the lead for good.
"We go for fourth down a lot, and a lot of people wonder why," Long said. "Some of it is a gut feeling. Some of it we think it's best for the team at that time to go for it for a momentum shift or to make sure our players believe we're here to win the game. There's a lot of reasons you go for it on fourth down.
"Now if you don't kick it very well, you might go for it on fourth down more often."
One win away
After starting the season 0-3, the Aztecs are now one win away from bowl eligibility with 0-9 Hawaii on tap for next week.
But that doesn't mean that Long is breathing any easier after Saturday's win.
"I think you have to win seven games to make sure you're in a bowl game. Six wins gets you bowl eligible, it doesn't necessarily get you to a bowl game. Besides, we'd like to win all the rest of (the remaining games)."
- SDSU came back from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win for just the fifth time in program history.
- The Aztecs' 22 fourth quarter points were their most since at least the 2000 season.
- San Diego State was 1-for-1 on 2-point conversion attempts and is now 4-for-5 of the year.