San Diego State won its first outright conference title since 1986 with a 27-24 win over Air Force Saturday at Qualcomm Stadium. That’s the obvious story line.
The story behind the story, though, is fifth-year Aztecs Coach Rocky Long won this game two years ago when he recruited Christian Chapman out of Carlsbad High 40 miles up I-5 from San Diego State’s campus.
Chapman, a redshirt freshman quarterback, made his first career start in place of injured senior Maxwell Smith in the Mountain West Conference Championship game. He completed 9-of-14 passes for 203 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. He also was able to avoid the rush enough to run six times for 32 yards.
Long placed enough trust in Chapman to win the pressure-packed night without having to shut down the offense. The Aztecs picked their spots to effectively throw the ball and succeeded.
There was a 24-yard touchdown pass to Donnel Pumphrey in the second quarter to tie the game 7-7. Chapman hit a 44-yard pass down the middle of the field to Jemond Hazely to the Air Force 28. On the next play Rashaad Penny followed with a burst behind a block by fullback Dakota Gordon up the right hash-mark for a 28-yard touchdown run and 24-17 lead.
The Aztecs eventually won when Donny Hageman’s 46-yard field goal broke a 24-24 tie with 5:10 to play. It’s the sixth straight year San Diego State has defeated Air Force, who have long been a nemesis for the Aztecs.
The reason Long won this game two years ago recruiting Chapman is he convinced him to stay home. That might not sound like much to find a quarterback in San Diego, but the history of San Diego’s highly recruited quarterback prospects has been to shun the Aztecs for Pac-12 and Power Five schools. That’s understandable.
But the Aztecs’ past coaches have been notorious for missing out on lightly recruited quarterbacks such as Chapman. Moses Moreno from Chula Vista in suburban San Diego was ignored by the Aztecs. He went to Colorado State and onto the NFL with the Chicago Bears and the San Diego Chargers.
Chapman was a Rivals 3-star prospect that turned down BYU, Colorado State and Washington State among others. Before Long lifted the program, maybe Chapman plays elsewhere.
As a result, the Aztecs are 10-3 overall and have won nine straight games to go with their 8-0 record that claimed the MW West Division title. The nine straight wins were all in conference play after a 1-3 start with losses at Cal, at home to South Alabama and at Penn State.
Long also is starting to gain the Aztecs’ some national attention. San Diego State earned three votes to equal No. 36 among “others” in the most recent AP Top 25 writers poll, but 14 to equal No. 29 in the USA Today coaches poll. The Aztecs are likely to climb and maybe break into the Top 25 with a bowl victory for win No. 11.
Air Force (8-5, 6-2 MW Mountain) was slated to host the Mountain West title game until their loss at New Mexico gave San Diego State the edge in the computer rankings that determine the home site. Prior to the two losses, Air Force was within range of a second-straight 10-win season after last year’s 10-3 mark.