Earnie Grafton/The Associated Press
Earnie Grafton/The Associated Press
SAN DIEGO – San Diego State had enough confidence in its defense to not worry about the large chunks of yardage it gave up to Air Force.
The Aztecs produced four turnovers that led to 21 points, including Everett Beed’s 52-yard fumble return for a touchdown, in a 28-9 win over Air Force on Saturday.
Adam Muema ran for two touchdowns as San Diego State (8-3, 6-1 Mountain West) won its sixth consecutive game and stayed alive for the conference title.
“We came together and gelled as a team real well over these past six games,” quarterback Adam Dingwell said. “We’ve got Wyoming coming up now and the conference championship, and that’s exciting.”
San Diego State, which began the day tied for first place, remains in the hunt for its first Mountain West title in its last season in the conference. The Aztecs are scheduled to move into the Big East in football next season.
“Today’s win matters a whole bunch to me,” said San Diego State coach Rocky Long. “Our whole existence of this football team is to win a conference championship. That’s what we build to, that’s what we train for, and guess what, we get a chance.”
The last time the Aztecs won a conference title was in 1998 when they took the Western Athletic Conference Pacific Division championship. The six-game win streak is the team’s longest since winning six in a row in 1995.
The Aztecs, who registered the program’s 500th win, have a week off before ending the regular season at Wyoming on Nov. 24.
San Diego State’s defense limited an Air Force offense that was averaging 33 points per game. The Falcons scored their fewest points since a 38-7 loss to No. 4-ranked TCU on Oct. 23, 2010.
“I thought we hung in there,” Long said. “We obviously gave up a bunch of yardage on defense, but the defense came up with some key stops on third and fourth downs and came up with some big turnovers.”
The Falcons (5-5, 4-2) were able to move the ball, gaining 393 yards in total offense, including 320 on the ground. But Air Force could not sustain drives despite converting on 6 of 9 fourth-down plays.
“It was really huge because of how they play, really physical,” Aztecs linebacker Derek Largent said. “We still had to buckle down and try to stop them.”
The four turnovers, including three by quarterback Connor Dietz, played a major role in the defeat.
“We should have had probably 20 or 30 more points if I wasn’t playing the way I did,” Dietz said. “This is one of those games where we lost primarily because of me.”
Dietz threw one intercepCalhoun said. “There were far too many drives that ended up in either turnovers or ended with no points.”
Beed’s 52-yard touchdown came after he picked up a loose ball when Dietz had the ball slip out of his hand as he brought it back to pass. The score put the Aztecs up 21-3 early in the third quarter.
“No excuses; the ball tion and fumbled twice.
“To beat a really good football team, you have to be able to conclude some drives with touchdowns,” Falcons head coach Troy came out,” Dietz said. “Bottom line, it was my fault.”
The Aztecs have converted 17 of their opponents’ last 19 turnovers into points.
“It’s a whole confidence issue,” said San Diego State defensive back Nat Berhe. “I think guys are finally realizing that we’re really good on defense.”
Muema, who scored on runs of 20 and 15 yards, rushed for 81 yards on 15 carries as the Aztecs gained 178 yards on the ground. Walter Kazee added 106 yards on 23 rushes.
Parker Herrington kicked a 22-yard field goal on the Falcons’ first possession but also missed a 42-yard attempt at the end of the first half.
San Diego State gained only 268 yards in offense as it employed a conservative, ground-oriented approach. Dingwell was 11 of 18 passing for 90 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown to Chad Young.
Wes Cobb scored on a 5-yard run late in the third quarter for Air Force to cut the lead to 28-9.
San Diego reached eight victories for the third consecutive season. The last time the Aztecs won at least eight games in three consecutive seasons was from 1972-77.