By the time Ejiro Ederaine caught up to the play, Fresno State was in trouble.
Kurt Palandech, the UNLV quarterback, had just raced 39 yards onto the Bulldogs’ side of the football field, from the 25 past midfield and to the 36 before safety Dalen Jones and cornerback Jamal Ellis could get him to the ground. The Rebels were close enough there and had enough time on the clock to start plotting; a field goal to tie or a touchdown to win and snatch a victory away from the home team, which had scored 17 points, unanswered at that point, to come back from a two-touchdown deficit in the third quarter.
Ederaine might have been on tilt, but wasn’t. When Palandech hit the escape hatch and took those first steps from a collapsing pocket toward open field, he went right past the outside linebacker, who had crashed hard off the edge. Ederaine got an arm extended but couldn’t grab hold.
“That’s on me,” he said afterward. “That big play, I was speed rushing and, I mean, I knew he was rushing, so I probably shouldn’t have tried to hit the corner as hard as I did because I left a little gap and he hit it.”
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There were other mistakes on the play, though. The eye discipline at a couple of positions was off, which made it easier for Palandech to get away. From his perch in the press box, defensive coordinator Nick Toth was yelling into his headset at nothing in particular. “That sucker broke free and all of a sudden I’m realizing, shoot, there is no one looking at this guy. My stomach was in my throat,” he said.
Fresno State had been 1-18 in games when it trailed after three quarters over the past four years, but Anderson brought the Bulldogs back Friday by orchestrating two touchdown drives in the fourth. The last quarterback to lead a fourth-quarter comeback was Derek Carr in a 2013 overtime win over Rutgers.
“Pretty loud,” said Jordan Peterson, the outside linebackers coach who signals the defensive plays from the sideline. “But,” Peterson added, “I’m yelling, too, ‘Quarterback, quarterback.’ I’m trying to get guys to turn around, but they’re in coverage and doing their pass responsibilities.”
But when the Bulldogs got up after the play, they weren’t down.
“It was a sigh of relief,” Ederaine said. “The goal line isn’t right behind us, so, OK, as coach says, just put the ball down, and you know what: Hey, just because he got a big run, that doesn’t mean he’s going to score. To score you have to cross the goal line.
“We just looked at each other and said, ‘We’re going to play fundamentally sound defense, and we’re going to make all the plays that come to us; nobody is going to try to be above the defense.’ And that’s what happened.”
On first down, inside (Will) linebacker Jeff Camilli was able to catch up in coverage and cut into a seam to knock down a pass intended for tight end Andrew Price, who was breaking open in a hole behind him.
“That was big, getting his hands on it there,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “We had rushed with three on that play, just to keep things in front, and Jeff did a great job dropping into the seam. I wish he would have caught it, just to relieve a little bit of the stress, but it was a good start.”
On second down, Palandech hit Price for a six-yard gain to the 30. The Rebels tight end went up the right hash mark, turned to his right. The ball was there.
“We were feeling, ‘We have to get this. Don’t let up,’ ” Fresno State outside linebacker Justin Green said. “Our mentality was, ‘Put the ball down.’ ”
Between those plays, rain started pelting the field. It came quickly, came down hard.
“I enjoyed the rain,” Bulldogs quarterback Kilton Anderson said, watching from the sideline. “I knew it was going to make things a little more difficult, but I trusted in my defense that they were going to get that stop.”
DeRuyter got a chuckle about the help from above, after the game.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but (University President Joseph Castro) had invited Bishop (Armando) Ochoa to his box,” he said.
111Rushing yards for the Bulldogs’ Marteze Waller – his 10th career 100-yard game
On third down, Ederaine and end Claudell Louis sacked Palandech as he moved up inside, looking for room to run. Ederaine brushed off the running back trying to take him out with a cut block and hit Palandech low. Louis disengaged inside, worked his way down the line and finished him off.
The Rebels still were at the 32-yard line. There was a timeout; 1:32 remaining.
“We had a chance to gather the guys, get them to slow their breathing, say, ‘Hey, look, forget everything else – this is a one-play mentality.’ They never blinked an eye,” Peterson said.
UNLV lined up, but before the Rebels could call a play the Bulldogs called a timeout.
The rain was falling hard, which might have dissuaded the Rebels from attempting a field goal to tie. Nicolai Bornand, their kicker, is 8 of 10 with makes from 49 and 51 yards and last season hit a 54-yard field goal in a 13-12 victory over FCS Northern Colorado.
“Those balls get pretty heavy when it rains like that,” DeRuyter said. “It was coming down pretty good.”
So, on fourth down, the Bulldogs had decisions to make. They were setting up pressure against the protection they expected to see from UNLV, coaching up players who were pressed into action or playing unfamiliar positions due to injury.
The Bulldogs had six sacks in the game and held UNLV to 299 yards of offense – the fewest allowed since their last win in the season opener against Abilene Christian.
“I thought we were getting pretty good pressure out of (our four-man rush) so I didn’t think we needed to bring a blitz,” DeRuyter said. “We decided to play coverage and we ended up executing it pretty well, got pressure on them and got him sacked.”
It was Green. The 201-pound sophomore, who is used primarily as a pass-rush specialist while adding to his 6-foot-4 frame, brushed off a block and drilled Palandech.
Asked about the last play after the game and the celebration, Green smiled and answered: “Oh, that?”
“They had called that timeout before it, so we came out thinking that they were going to try to run floods and slants and stuff,” he said. “But then Coach Toth called a play that allowed the outside ’backers to come inside and make that play, and we did our job.”
Green jumped up, waved his arms in the air. End Todd Hunt, who missed two days of practice late in the week awaiting the birth of his son – Jackson James Hunt, who weighed in at 8 pounds, 3 ounces, Thursday evening – was one of the first to embrace Green.
This is by far the greatest week of my life.
Fresno State defensive end Todd Hunt
“This is by far the greatest week of my life,” Hunt said. “I just had my son born last night, and for us to get this win, it’s not only because of the win but it’s because of the way we won. We didn’t back down. We played like Bulldogs.”
It would be naive to think those five plays turned around the Bulldogs’ season, because they still are a 2-5 football team, 1-3 in the Mountain West Conference and far from where they want to be at this point in the season. The margin to qualify for a bowl game is slim.
But those five plays helped them win a football game – which they hadn’t been able to do in 44 days. They did it with Anderson in only his second career start and a defense that was without seven players due to injury that would have played reps, including outside linebackers Tobenna Okeke and Brandon Hughes, and free safety Shannon Edwards. Safety Alan Wright went down during the game, as did nose guard Nate Madsen. On that last series, Charles Washington was playing free safety, a position he had not played all season. Jones was playing strong safety. It makes a difference.
We hear the outside noise. We never really listen to it, but hearing it for a month and a week straight …obviously, it wasn’t the happiest place around here. But now that we got that win, I feel like we can start rolling.
Fresno State outside linebacker Justin Green
“Definitely made the team take a big step forward,” said Ederaine, who had a game-high 12 tackles, including 1.5 sacks and three tackles for loss. “The team never addressed it, but there’s 100 of us on the team; we hear the outside noise. We never really listen to it, but hearing it for a month and a week straight … obviously, it wasn’t the happiest place around here.
“But now that we got that win, I feel like we can start rolling. The biggest thing is getting to six wins, because I want my seniors to go to a bowl trip. I’ve been to a bowl game every year, so I want that. It’s my turn to drive the ship, and I’m not going to let it crash.”
Kilton climbing – DeRuyter was confident Anderson would take a step forward off his first career start, in which he hit 10 of 20 passes for 112 yards with one touchdown but also had three interceptions in a loss to Utah State. The sophomore quarterback did that, was much more confident in making his reads, identifying and taking advantage of the one-on-one matchups the Rebels gave him.
He hit 19 of 31 passes (61.3 percent) for 193 yards and did much better in the run game with the read option, pulling the ball and making plays with his legs. Anderson rushed 11 times for 78 yards and two touchdowns and picked up five first downs, including three on third-down plays.
“I was definitely a lot more comfortable,” said Anderson, who was the Bulldogs’ fourth-team quarterback when the season started. “I got a lot of reps in practice with the ones, and that definitely calmed me down a lot. I was able to make the reads and be a lot more comfortable in the pocket.”
It changes things a bit now.
“I think that the key thing for him was leading our offense when we were down two scores in the fourth quarter and having the guys around him feel like he was going to find a way to get it done,” DeRuyter said. “That doesn’t always just happen. But they saw how he was competing. He made some plays; he left some plays out there. But the fact that he had enough energy and drive to inspire the guys around him I think is huge for this team going forward.
“The fact that we had to come back from that deficit in the fourth quarter, we hadn’t done that in a long time. To have a young guy like him do it in only his second start, I think that bodes well for our future. We have to continue to obviously get better at that position and get better everywhere. But I thought our offense finally got into a rhythm because of the decisions he made.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE AT AIR FORCE
- Saturday: 11 a.m.
- Records: Bulldogs 2-5, 1-3 MW; Falcons 3-3, 2-1
- Online TV: ESPN3
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 160)