They got to Game 12, the last of the season, without much satisfaction. It had been weeks since Fresno State had won a game and that one victory, back in September, didn’t do much.
The Bulldogs beat Sacramento State, a team from the championship subdivision in Week 2, and even that one was not easy. After that, hope had taken a beating from Toledo, Tulsa, San Diego State. Nine in a row, and down they went.
But on Saturday those Bulldogs, including 14 seniors, five of whom had come to Fresno State in much better times, got to splash around in a steady rain like little kids.
One last time, whether for the season or forever, they got to play and for a time were in with a chance. They even had a lead into the half.
But when the clock hit zero the story was the same, Fresno State ending its season with a 16-14 loss to San Jose State. An already small crowd at Bulldog Stadium had dwindled to maybe 200 by game’s end.
I don’t know why there was such a change in these past few years. We just couldn’t find a way to win this year.
fifth-year senior Aaron Peck after Fresno State, two years removed from back-to-back conference titles, completed a 1-11 season
“It’s tough. It’s painful. I’m sick to my stomach. It hurts to the core,” said interim coach Eric Kiesau, who took over Oct. 23 after Tim DeRuyter was fired following a loss at Utah State and a 1-7 start. “We really wanted to get this one for the seniors and the players and it didn’t go our way. …
“It has been a rough one, definitely. No doubt. I really can’t put into words what you go through day in and day out. You look at the players and try to get them fired up and believe me, it’s not all their fault by any means. It’s tough. It’s not easy.”
It was the Bulldogs’ 11th loss this season and 10th in a row, both school records. And it was their fourth by a touchdown or less, also losing 48-41 to Tulsa in overtime, 27-22 at Nevada and 14-13 to Hawaii. Ex-Cal coach Jeff Tedford takes over in 2017.
“I don’t know how the younger guys feel about this year, but just knowing where we could be and where we used to be and where we are now … I don’t know, it’s a huge change,” said wideout Aaron Peck, a fifth-year senior that played on two Mountain West Conference championship teams.
“I don’t know why there was such a change in these past few years. I know the personnel has been different, but that’s not an excuse. We just couldn’t find a way to win this year.”
The Bulldogs on Saturday were done in by a third quarter that followed a seasonlong trend –coming out of halftime they had scored only 43 points in 11 games.
A defense that had its moments in the final month kept them in it, but an offense that has struggled all season couldn’t get them clear.
Fresno State (1-11) had a 14-7 lead at halftime, but generated only 26 yards on three possessions in the third quarter.
245 total yards for the Bulldogs in their season-closing loss to San Jose State
There was a three-and-out, a fumble lost and another three-and-out. The Spartans got just enough to win, following up two third-quarter field goals with one in the fourth.
San Jose State, following another Fresno State punt, moved the football 32 yards in eight plays and after being stopped following a first-and-goal at the 10, Bryce Crawford hit from 23 yards to put the Spartans in the lead.
“We just didn’t execute in the second half,” Kiesau said.
The Bulldogs had a last shot, two in fact. But with the way the offense had bogged down, unable to run against a team that ranked 11th of 12 in the conference in rushing defense, that was little to no shot at all.
They gained 10 yards on five plays and punted, then gained 7 yards and were stopped on downs. All that was left was for the Bulldogs to walk silently up the ramp and out of the stadium.
“Lot of emotions,” said inside linebacker Robert Stanley, describing the Bulldogs’ locker room after the game. “I don’t know, just praising the seniors, thanking them for everything they gave to the program, thanking all the coaches, the training staff for everything they’ve done for us this season and in past seasons.
“Everything really hit, that it was the end for the seniors. I feel like once they got to the locker room, that’s when all emotion just started flooding out.”
I love football, win or lose. I love my team. Win or lose, I love these guys.
Fresno State senior free safety Stratton Brown, who came up with his first interception in his final game
In this game, the Bulldogs offered some early hope, which couldn’t have helped.
After San Jose State took a 7-0 lead following a blocked punt, the Bulldogs made some plays that had eluded them through the first three months of the season.
They cut down a scoring threat at the end of the first half when free safety Stratton Brown, who had routinely worked after practices catching passes out of a pitching machine in search of his first career interception, finally, in career game No. 35, got it.
The Spartans had scored more than 30 points in three consecutive games for the first time since 2013, but the Bulldogs continually got them off the field.
“I love football, win or lose,” said Brown, who was in on 15 tackles against the Spartans and led the team this season with 115. “I love my team. I love my boys. It’s very emotional knowing that I’m never going to play with this team again. Win or lose, I love these guys.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
San Jose State 16, Fresno State 14
San Jose State
SJS — Crawley 8 pass from Potter (Crawford kick), :41
FRE — James 1 run (Kroening kick), 8:40
FRE — Kline 32 run (Kroening kick), 5:45
SJS — FG Crawford 28, 8:12
SJS — FG Crawford 22, 4:24
SJS — FG Crawford 23, 6:25
A — 20,991.
San Jose State
Time of Possession
RUSHING — San Jose State, Cooper 26-126, Potter 17-70, Roberson 2-18, Gonzalez 0-0, Crawley 2-(minus 1), (Team) 1-(minus 2). Fresno State, James 12-42, Hokit 9-33, T.Green 5-21, Kline 14-9, J.Jordan 1-(minus 9).
PASSING — San Jose State, Potter 15-25-1-111. Fresno State, Cusick 0-1-0-0, T.Green 1-1-0-4, Kline 10-17-0-145.
RECEIVING — San Jose State, Holmes 5-43, Crawley 4-35, R.Johnson 2-14, Freeman 2-11, Roberson 2-8. Fresno State, Peck 6-63, K.Johnson 1-53, J.Jordan 1-11, Martens 1-9, J.Allen 1-9, Kline 1-4.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — None.
Fresno State-San Jose State by the numbers
6: Fresno State made a first down on its opening possession for the first time in six games.
2: Chunk plays by Bulldogs in the first quarter. They had none in loss to Hawaii.
56: Games since San Jose State blocked a punt; Oct. 20, 2012 vs. Texas-San Antonio.
7: Games in which Fresno State was shut out in the first quarter this season.
51: Points scored by the 'Dogs in the second half of eight Mountain West games.
14: Tackles for loss by San Jose State including four sacks.
110: Of the Bulldogs' 245 total yards came on three chunk plays of 54, 32 and 25 yards.
15: Tackles by free safety Stratton Brown, giving him a team-high 115 this season.
10: Times this season Fresno State gave up at least 200 rushing yards; Spartans had 211.
2.6: Average yards gained by the Bulldogs on 25 first-down plays.