Video by Keith Albertson, CTV11 Sports
SAN JOSE, Calif. – Survive and advance.
That’s exactly what Colorado State did Saturday night, enduring a late offensive onslaught from San Jose State to hold on for a 38-31 win at in front of 17,887 fans at Spartan Stadium.
Led by a career-high four touchdowns from junior running back Dee Hart and a gutsy performance from hobbled quarterback Garrett Grayson (22-28, 290 yards, 1 TD), the Rams (8-1, 4-1 Mountain West) overcame a handful of late breakdowns to win their seventh-consecutive game.
But it wasn’t pretty.
After giving up a late touchdown with 2:19 to play in the fourth quarter, CSU was unable to recover the Spartans’ onside kick, giving the hosts one final shot of life. And just when it looked like San Jose State might complete an epic comeback on a long touchdown by wide receiver Jabari Carr, the play was called back after replays showed that Carr stepped out of bounds before coming back into the field of play and catching the pass. On the next play, quarterback Joe Gray missed his intended receiver and the Rams were able to salt away the victory.
And while CSU head coach Jim McElwain was not happy about the way the final minutes played out, he couldn’t help but be pleased with the final result.
“I’m just really proud of our guys,” McElwain said. “Obviously there are some things we need to work on and we’re a long ways from where we need to be but sometimes you just have to find a way to win some games.”
It was the Spartans who struck first however, when Gray hit Carr for a 9-yard touchdown pass to put San Jose State up 7-0 less than five minutes into the first quarter. After trading punts, Colorado State responded with a short drive of their own that was capped off by a 6-yard scamper from Hart that brought the Rams back even at 7-7.
With a chance to take the lead early in the second quarter, McElwain elected to try a trick play on 4th down instead of sending out Jared Roberts for a chip-shot field goal. The plan backfired as tight end Nolan Peralta was stuffed at the line of scrimmage.
The Spartans capitalized on the momentum change on the very next play when running back Tyler Ervin took a handoff over left tackle 89 yards to the house to put San Jose State back in front 14-7.
After a 53-yard field goal by Roberts with 9:23 to play in the second quarter, CSU took its first lead when quarterback Garrett Grayson found star sophomore Rashard Higgins on a fade route in the corner of the end zone.
The Spartans then drew even on a 21-yard field goal by Austin Lopez with 9:37 to play in the third quarter. But the Rams responded with a 15-play, 64-yard drive that was punctuated by Hart’s second touchdown of the night, this time from a yard out, to put CSU up 24-17.
“I’m just doing what I can for the team,” Hart said afterwards. “I don’t really think too much about myself, I just want to make our guys better.”
But yet again, the Spartans wouldn’t go away, scoring on a 20-yard pass from Gray to Tyler Winston just over a minute into the fourth quarter.
After consecutive 7-yard touchdown runs by Hart, his third and fourth of the game, it looked like CSU was headed for another big win leading 38-24 with 5:09 to play.
With fans heading for the exits, San Jose State took the ball 91 yards on 15 plays in just under two and a half minutes to bring the game within a touchdown, which would hold up as the final margin.
“Like Coach (McElwain) said in the locker room (after the game), a win’s a win,” Grayson said. “As long as we get a win, that’s how we’re looking at it. We are heading back to Fort Collins happy.”
Collegian Sports Editor Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.