For one sweltering Saturday evening in early September, all was right at Cedar & Barstow.
Fresno State swatted around an overmatched opponent 66-0 in Jeff Tedford’s head coaching debut.
The largest Bulldog Stadium crowd in three years (39,447) braved 109-degree temperatures and smoky air from the nearby Railroad Fire, conditions that seemed to dampen the volume but not the enthusiasm or anticipation.
“I tried to get the crowd going when (Incarnate Word) had the ball, but I think they were too busy fanning themselves to clap,” Tedford quipped afterward.
They stopped long enough to applaud Derek Carr during a halftime ceremony to retire his college jersey. Carr’s No. 4 now hangs alonside the No. 8 of older brother David Carr, who also took part alongside past honorees Kevin Sweeney, Dale Messer and Vince Petrucci. (Trent Dilfer and Henry Ellard had prior commitments.)
And who’s that tall, skinny guy on the sideline in the white T-shirt and sunglasses? Oh, nobody. Just four-time NBA All-Star Paul George.
All the planets in Fresno State’s athletic solar system were perfectly aligned.
Each time the Bulldogs scored a touchdown – and there were eight(!) – last season’s 1-11 embarrassment got shoved deeper into the memory vault.
For one sweltering evening, nobody worried about the stadium’s cracking east side, which will delay (or possibly torpedo) Athletic Director Jim Bartko’s much-needed renovation plan.
Or fretted how to pay for wrestling and women’s water polo. Or cared a lick the Bulldogs were picked to finish last in their division. Or panicked over the prospect of Alabama and Washington in back-to-back weeks.
This was a feel-good occasion, if it’s possible to feel good while dripping with sweat.
This was a feel-good occasion – if it’s possible to feel good while dripping with sweat – for an athletic department that hasn’t had a ton to cheer about lately. (Fresno State, lest you forget, did not win a conference championship in any sport during 2016-17, something that hasn’t happened in eons.)
Can this be a turning point for a program that’s been going in circles? Bartko is certainly hoping, if not banking, on that.
“I think today with Coach Tedford’s debut and David and Derek both here, we’ve shown a great turnout, and this will just take us to the next level,” Bartko said.
“To have this crowd after 4-20 these last two years says something. The fans are excited. I’m proud of them for stepping up.”
Bartko and I disagree over how much Derek Carr’s jersey retirement goosed the turnstiles. I estimated at least 10,000. Bartko felt closer to 5,000. (“Derek obviously helps a lot, but Tedford has brought a buzz, too,” he said.)
Guess we’ll find out Sept. 30, the next time the Bulldogs return home. Certainly how they competitive they are these next two weeks, against a whole different beast of college football animal, will be a major factor.
Still, though, it’s good to be reminded Fresno State can still move nearly 40,000 tickets no matter the occasion.
“Bulldogs fans are loyal, which you can see by this turnout,” said Brian Panish, a Los Angeles attorney who played safety for the Bulldogs from 1977-80. “Everybody loves a winner, but you know they love Fresno State. You can see it.”
I talk to all my ex-teammates. This is a special place, and that was a tight group.
Panish and nearly 80 of his former teammates and coaches from the 1977 “Stadium Builders” team coached by Jim Sweeney were on hand to celebrate their 40th reunion.
And, no, they didn’t mind their event being upstaged by a certain quarterback of more recent vintage.
“That’s OK, because we like to say if it wasn’t for us, none of this would be here,” Panish said, meaning not only Bulldog Stadium but the entire athletic complex west of Barstow Avenue.
Sometimes it’s good to be reminded of your humble beginnings.
As far as the actual football, it went about as swimmingly as could be expected.
The only downer came on the first play from scrimmage. Fresno State offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer wanted to open the Tedford era with a halfback option pass – the same one Josh Hokit threw for a 65-yard touchdown a couple of drives later.
But when the Bulldogs took possession on the left hash instead of the right, they elected to run off tackle on first down. Bummer.
After that, Fresno State provided its sweaty, self-fanning fans with every incentive to return. Chason Virgil missed several open receivers but also made a few nice throws before giving way to Marcus McMaryion with the score 43-0.
Junior wide receiver KeeSean Johnson had a big game and appears primed for a huge year. Both freshman running backs scored touchdowns. Orlando Steinauer’s defense, with its ends in two-point stances, looked friskier and more active as evidenced by the nine tackles for losses and two safeties.
Despite the inhumane weather, Fresno State and Bulldogs fans couldn’t have asked for a better night. The Tedford era is off to a sizzling start.
FRESNO STATE AT NO. 1 ALABAMA
- Saturday: 12:30 p.m. PDT at Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821) in Tuscaloosa
- TV/radio: (ESPN2)/ KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Records: Bulldogs 1-0, Crimson Tide 1-0
- Of note: As the Bulldogs were beating up on FCS Incarnate Word, top-ranked Alabama was dominating third-ranked Florida State 24-7 in Atlanta.
Fresno State 66, Incarnate Word 0
FRE — Hokit 1 run (Camacho kick), 6:51. Drive: 6 plays, 43 yards, 2:32.
FRE — FG Camacho 30, 3:56. Drive: 4 plays, 4 yards, 1:15.
FRE — Rice 65 pass from Hokit (Camacho kick), 1:51. Drive: 4 plays, 84 yards, 0:50.
FRE — FG Camacho 47, 11:09. Drive: 7 plays, 42 yards, 1:49.
FRE — Hokit 4 run (Camacho kick), 4:53. Drive: 5 plays, 84 yards, 1:48.
FRE — Riddering 2 pass from Virgil (Camacho kick), :15. Drive: 10 plays, 74, yards, 3:15.
FRE — Team safety, 13:11.
FRE — Rivers 30 run (Camacho kick), 11:57. Drive: 4 plays, 61 yards, 1:14.
FRE — Ndoh safety, 10:22.
FRE — Jordan 24 pass McMaryion (Camacho kick), 7:48. Drive: 5 plays, 58 yards, 2:25.
FRE — Mims 13 run (Camacho kick), 5:40. Drive: 4 plays, 24 yards, 1:51.
FRE — Allen 45 pass from McMaryion (Camacho kick), :33. Drive: 6 plays, 64 yards, 3:27.
Time of Possession
RUSHING — Incarnate Word, Philio 7-11, Hite 15-0, (Team) 1-(minus 2), Laird 3-(minus 16). Fresno State, Rivers 9-60, Mims 8-38, O’Neal 5-37, Perry 8-31, Hokit 4-13, S.Johnson 5-13, McMaryion 1-7.
PASSING — Incarnate Word, Laird 9-20-1-90, Brophy 6-11-0-65. Fresno State, Virgil 16-29-0-246, McMaryion 6-7-0-103, Hokit 1-1-0-65.
RECEIVING — Incarnate Word, Hite 4-18, Gilbert 3-39, Brooks 2-45, Parra 2-29, McCollum 2-21, C.Johnson 1-2, Higgins 1-1. Fresno State, K.Johnson 7-120, Rivers 3-22, Jordan 2-64, Allen 2-51, Scott 2-32, S.Johnson 2-23, Grim 2-14, Ja.Rice 1-65, Mims 1-21, Riddering 1-2.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — Incarnate Word, Perez 30.
TACKLES — Incarnate Word, Mark’Kel Cooks 5-6, Quandre Washington 4-5, Cam Night 3-4, Jamarkese Williams 4-4, Dax Elsinger 3-4, Tim McCoy 1-4, Jared Ambres 2-3, Chris Thomas 0-3, Darrius Montgomery 2-3, Cam Johnson 1-2, Greg Lemon 2-2, Devin Bracy 0-2, Jeilyn Williams 2-2, Jawun Jiles 0-2, Corey Lee 2-2, Cameron Wilson 2-2, Karee Berry 1-1, Kyle Covington 1-1, Marquis Britten 1-1, Adam Garza 0-1, Israel Acuay 1-1, West Lambert 1-1, Andy Jennings 1-1, Matt Yarbrough 1-1, Blake Klump 0-1, John Williams 0-1, Tyler Colbert 1-1. Fresno State, Anthoula 6-6, Jeffrey Allison 4-5, George Helmuth 2-4, Emeka Ndoh 3-3, Ka’Lonn Milton 3-3, Robert Stanley 3-3, Nela Otukolo 2-2, Jaron Bryant 1-2, Juju Hughes 2-2, Sherman Coleman 2-2, Tainoa Foster 1-2, Jasasd Haynes 1-2, Patrick 1-2, Damien Degruy 1-1, James Bailey 0-1, Arron Mosby 1-1, Johnny Johnson 1-1, Trent Soechting 1-1, Justin Rice 1-1, Maamaloa Mafi 1-1, Stephen Van Hook 1-1, Kevin Atkins 1-1, Malik Forrester 0-1.
FRESNO STATE SCHEDULE
2 vs. Incarnate Word W, 66-0
9 at Alabama 12:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
16 at Washington 6:30 p.m. (PAC-12)
30 vs. Nevada* 7 p.m.
7 at San Jose State* 4:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
14 vs. New Mexico* 7 p.m.
21 at San Diego State* 7:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
28 vs. UNLV* 7 p.m.
4 vs. BYU TBD (ESPN Networks)
11 at Hawaii* 8 p.m.
18 at Wyoming* 11 or 11:30 a.m.
25 vs. Boise State* 12:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
*Mountain West Conference game