Monday, November 19, 2007

Wait a minute...San Jose's not a state! it?

(Editor's note: Dionne Warwick (shown here, back in the day), who had a monster hit in the late 1960s with "Do You Know The Way To San Jose?" by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, was not at the Louisiana Tech vs. San Jose State game in Ruston Saturday night. "If the game had been in San Jose, she would have been there," her publicist said. "She doesn't know the way to Ruston.")

Here's a tale of Saturday's football game at Aillet Stadium, more from the losers' point of view than from Tech's. I was writing specifically for Dionne Warwick and had hoped to get a quote from her, but ... didn't happen.

And this doesn't happen every day either: both Louisiana Tech and San Jose State face, as their next opponent, Nevada, of the WAC. Fortunately for Nevada, they won't take on both teams at once. SJSU plays Nevada this week while Tech is open; the Bulldogs travel to Nevada on Dec. 1 to close out their regular season.

Tech 27, San Jose State 24:

'One play away...'
Spartans rally but fall short late against Bulldogs

By Teddy Allen

RUSTON, La. – San Jose State played its worst first half on the road of the year, lost two fumbles for the first time all year, and found itself settling for field goals on each of the three times it set up shop on or inside Louisiana Tech’s 5-yard-line here Saturday night.

And still, with two minutes to play and 16 yards between them and the end zone, the Spartans were looking dead-ahead at their first lead of the night, and a happy ride home.

“One play away,” SJSU coach Dick Tomey said moments after a 27-23 loss to Western Athletic Conference opponent Louisiana Tech. “We gave up some big plays. We made some uncharacteristic mistakes. We got some momentum, we just couldn’t keep it long enough to get ahead. And still, we were just one play away…”

Tomey talked on a hill above Joe Aillet Stadium’s south end zone where a few minutes before, quarterback Adam Tafralis’ fourth-and-4 pass from the Tech 16, intended for Jacob French in the heart of the end zone, was knocked down with 1:51 left to play.

“One play short,” Tomey said. “We overcame everything that happened, but…”

He shook his head.

One play short.

Tech took over, ran out the clock with San Jose out of time outs, and kept its hope of a winning season alive. Tech is 5-6 overall, 4-3 in the conference and can become bowl eligible when it closes the season at Nevada after an open date.

San Jose’s season’s hopes met the same fate as Tafralis’ final pass: grounded. The Spartans are 4-7 overall, 3-4 in the WAC and end their season Saturday at home against Nevada. A nine-win team last year, the Spartans 2007 season has gone a lot like Saturday’s game in north Louisiana: stop and go, herky jerky, and a whole lot of too little, too late.

“This hurts a lot,” Tomey said. “We had a chance to compete, to have a winning season, and we didn’t get it done.”

The Spartans’ played the first half as if they were still on the bus in the parking lot. Tech built a 24-6 lead, mainly on Spartan brain cramps. Four big gainers for Tech either were scores or led to scores: a 46-yard run, a 52-yard punt return, and passes of both 49 and 50 yards. “Missed tackles,” Tomey said. “Blown coverages.”

“That’s part of the game,” he said. “You don’t want it to be, but it happens.”

The tide turned in the second half, and quickly. The Spartans’ opening possession ended with Tafralis passing 23 yards to a streaking James T. Callier for SJSU’s first touchdown. Tafralis ran for four yards and a score to make it 24-20 with 5:27 left in the third quarter; that score was set up after Tafralis scrambled before finding Kevin Jurovich for 39 yards, one of the hometown junior’s 11 catches in the game.

“In the third quarter,” said Tech rookie head coach Derek Dooley, “everything went south. We couldn’t stop them.”

Tafralis finished with 36 yards rushing, second to French’s 43 yards. He completed 28 of 47 passes for 369 yards—his sixth 300 yards-passing game of the year -- and was picked off once.

“He did a terrific job of keeping us in the game,” Tomey said of his senior quarterback.

The teams traded field goals before SJSU took over on its 20 with 3:15 left and trailing by four. What happened next didn’t take long; two completions and two pass interference penalties against Tech put the ball on the Bulldog 22. From that point, two incompletions and a scramble led to the game-defining 4th-and-4 from the Tech 16.

“If we had any faults down the stretch, it was in our trying for the touchdown; all we needed was a first down,” Tomey said. “But it’s easy to say that when you’re not actually playing in the game. We were in the game because of Adam, because of his scrambling and throwing and running.”

It helped that Tomey had Matt Castelo tackling people. The senior linebacker from Valley Christian High in San Jose did that 21 times, including four tackles for losses.

Last year, the Spartans ripped the Bulldogs, 44-10, in San Jose with a 2006 Division I-A single-game best 476 yards rushing. The Spartans managed only 105 yards rushing Saturday.

“We fought really well in the second half, not so good in the first, but Louisiana Tech had a lot to do with that,” Tomey said. “There are a lot of good days ahead for Tech football.”

There is only a week ahead for the current bunch of Spartans, but already they’ve ended a long hard road. Seven times this year they’ve traveled; six times they returned with one more loss than they’d left home with. Their lone road win came against hapless Utah State, no small accomplishment in retrospect: that 23-20 win in Logan came sandwiched between three straight road losses – at Arizona State, Kansas State and Stanford – and a week before the home opener – in Game 5 against UC-Davis, on Sept. 29.

After Tech, SJSU’s road record fell to 1-6.

“Tonight’s the poorest first half we’ve played on the road, but the road’s got nothing to do with it,” Tomey said. “You’ve got to make a play, and we didn’t. They did. You’ve got to be mature enough to overcome that.”