San Diego State halts No. 23 Air Force with staunch ground game

SAN DIEGO -- Perhaps it's a sign of how far San Diego State has come under coach Brady Hoke that the Aztecs didn't get overly excited after their first win against a ranked team in 14 years.

Freshman Ronnie Hillman scored on runs of 65 and 44 yards, finishing with 191 yards on 24 carries to lead San Diego State to a 27-25 upset of No. 23 Air Force on Saturday night.

The Aztecs beat a ranked team for the first time since defeating No. 16 Wyoming 28-24 on Nov. 7, 1996. Since then, they'd lost 25 straight games to ranked opponents. Overall, SDSU is 6-55 against ranked teams dating to 1973.

"We fought all 60 minutes, and that's something that you haven't always been able to say about an Aztecs team," said quarterback Ryan Lindley, who threw for 247 yards and one touchdown, with one interception. "We take pride in that."

Hillman broke his 44-yarder with two minutes left, on the first play from scrimmage after SDSU (4-2, 1-1 Mountain West) recovered an onside kick.

"Obviously the plan was to run out the clock, but the line did a great job of opening a hole and we just ran to the end zone," Hillman said.

Air Force (5-2, 3-1) pulled to 20-18 on Nathan Walker's 4-yard run with 2:08 to go. SDSU defensive back Andrew Preston stopped Asher Clark at the 1-yard line on a two-point conversion. The conversion play originally was ruled a score, but was overturned after a lengthy review, with the officials ruling Clark's knee was down.

"In the heat of the moment, you think you've scored, and I thought I got the extra two points," said Clark, who gained 116 yards on 19 carries. "But I guess it wasn't that way."

Air Force's Chaz Demerath caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Tim Jefferson with 18 seconds left.

"We made it probably a little more exciting than we should have there at the end on that last drive," Hoke said. "But I'm proud of the kids and how they stayed together and kept fighting and played 60 minutes of football."

After going 4-8 in Hoke's first season, the Aztecs have matched or surpassed the total number of victories in each of the last four seasons.

"They're good," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. "Give them credit, too. They have a heck of a team. It's pretty obvious they are athletic. They should easily win eight games this year."

Air Force was knocked out of the top spot in the MWC. No. 4 Utah and No. 11 TCU are both 3-0 in league play.

Air Force came in leading the nation in rushing with 352.7 yards per game and was held to 312. A week earlier, SDSU allowed 271 rushing yards in a 24-21 loss at BYU.

It was Hillman's third game in triple digits this season. His best effort was 228 yards in a loss at Missouri.

Hillman's dazzling 65-yard run midway through the second quarter was the first score of the game. He took the handoff, broke one tackle, had a Falcons player miss a tackle and then jumped over a prone Air Force player to cruise into the end zone.

"I was just following the blocks," Hillman said. "The receivers did a great job of harassing the corners and DBs all game. They all did a great job of downfield blocking, so I was just following them."

San Diego State took a 17-6 lead midway through the third quarter when wide-open tight end Gavin Escobar pulled in a high pass from Lindley with his left hand for an 8-yard TD.

Air Force answered with a scoring drive capped by tailback Clark taking a pitch along the right sideline, cutting inside and scoring on a 20-yard run. The Falcons botched the 2-point conversion attempt and trailed 17-12.

San Diego State made it 20-12 with a 27-yard field goal by Abel Perez early in the fourth quarter. Perez was wide left on a 19-yard attempt with 8:59 left.

Air Force got field goals of 25 and 30 yards from Erik Soderberg. His second field goal came after the Falcons kept the ball on a fair-catch interference call against SDSU that negated a fumble on a punt.

Each team missed a field goal.

"You can't leave all of those points out there against a good team like San Diego State," Jefferson said. "It comes down to our execution. It just wasn't all there."

Jefferson was 13 of 30 passing, both career highs, for 175 yards. He also gained 88 yards on 15 carries.

Air Force fullback Jared Tew injured a fibula in the first quarter. Calhoun said Tew is expected to be out for six weeks.