Colorado State football team sings its fight song with Rams fans in attendance at Bulldog Stadium after beating Fresno State. (Video by Geoff Huebner)
FRESNO, CALIFORNIA – Joe Hansley was electric, and Izzy Matthews put the nail in the coffin as the Colorado State Rams (7-5, 5-3 Mountain West) traveled to Fresno, California and defeated the Fresno State Bulldogs (3-9, 2-6 MW) by a score of 34-31 for the final game of their regular season.
It did not take long for the Rams to establish themselves on the scoreboard, CSU scored a touchdown the first time the team touched the football, when senior wide-out Joe Hansley brought back a punt 75-yards to the house for six.
“We were sputtering but Joe just kept playing football,” CSU head coach Mike Bobo said. “Some of the other guys were looking around like, ‘what’s wrong coach, what’s wrong’ … Joe just kept playing and when he had an opportunity to make a play he did.”
Coming into the game the Bulldogs were averaging only 21.5 points per game. Their offense appeared to be stagnant early until a 4-play, 27-yard drive capped off by an 18-yard scamper up the middle for a touchdown from quarterback Kilton Anderson with 13 seconds in the first quarter, giving Fresno a 10-7 lead.
From there, the Bulldogs just got hotter and had the Rams on their heels for the majority of the first half. Fresno State intercepted Nick Stevens and capitalized with a 1-yard touchdown run from the goal line a play later.
The Rams could not cash in on the opportunity to bounce back with their next possession. CSU punted the ball back to the Bulldogs who scored another rushing touchdown on a 6-play, 80-yard drive highlighted by a 55-yard run up the middle by running back Dustin Garrison to go ahead 24-14.
The first half did end on a bright note for the Rams, though, when Hansley scored on his second punt-return touchdown of the night, weaving and finding his way to the end zone through Fresno State traffic.
Picking up right where Hansley left off, sophomore defensive back Kevin Nutt, Jr. opened the second half with a 96-yard kick return touchdown, the third special teams touchdown on the day to bring the score to 24-20 after missing the PAT.
The two teams seemed to reach a stalemate, battling back-and-forth as the third quarter winded down until running back Matthews scored on a 39-yard touchdown run with 1:27 in the third quarter.
“We just had to shut it down and start doing our jobs,” senior defensive lineman Martavius Foster said. “We had too many guys trying to do other people’s jobs and not do what they are supposed to do, so we just talked as a defense and started to believe in each other and we came out in the second half and did our thing.”
Fresno State responded with an 8-play, 76-yard drive to answer back and bring the game to 31-27. The Bulldogs were not able to hang on to the lead for long, Hansley made sure of that. Scoring on his third touchdown of the day, the senior caught a pass from Stevens and found his way to pay dirt for a 24-yard score with 10:03 remaining in the game, bringing the score to 34-31 in favor of the Rams.
“The punt return team, they did a great job. Guys like Rashard out there; he’s busting his butt out there every play trying to get me loose, so it was a good team effort by everyone,” Hansley said.
The ground-game for the Rams came alive late in the second half, led by Matthews, who put the game away with the first 100-yard rushing game of his career. The true freshman finished with 140 yards on 18 carries.
CSU now rides a four-game winning streak to close out the regular season.
Collegian Sports Reporter Geoff Heubner can be reached by email at email@example.com and on Twitter @Huebnermedia93.