Fresno State generated four turnovers, rushed for over 200 yards and nearly tied the game in the closing moments, in a narrow 31-23 loss to USC Saturday night at the newly-renovated LA Memorial Coliseum.
The Bulldogs don’t play for moral victories and after their loss to USC, head coach Jeff Tedford reiterated his team’s mindset – win games, no matter what.
“We came here to win a football game and we didn’t get that done,” he said. “I am proud of the team for the way that they competed and fought until the very end, but at the end of the day, it is all about winning the game and we didn’t get that done.”
Behind first-year starter and SoCal native (Downey, Ca) Jorge Reyna, the Bulldogs showed flashes, but lacked consistency throughout the game.
But Reyna showed why he was Tedford’s first recruit at Fresno State.
The senior play caller threw over 250 yards and two touchdowns, while utilizing his legs on 20 carries for 88 yards. Like former quarterback Marcus McMaryion, Reyna has the toughness and vision to effectively run the ball from the quarterback position.
Although he had three turnovers (two fumbles and an interception) Reyna led the Bulldogs back from a double-digit deficit late in the game.
“I’ve always had a tough journey. It’s never been easy for me with family life, football and academics,” he said. “I just wanted to show the Red Wave that I can fight, no matter what happens and lead.”
His demeanor and poise under pressure caught the eye of many in attendance, including USC head coach Clay Helton.
“Credit to him, what a competitor he was and he put his team in a position to tie it in the end.”
The Trojans, coming off a 5-7 2018 season came out swinging to a raucous crowd at the newly renovated Coliseum.
USC’s plethora of athletes were on full display from the onset of kickoff.
The Trojans marched 80 yards down the field on their opening drive, culminating in an eight-yard pass to Stephen Carr for the opening score.
But the Trojans were just getting started.
Fresno State’s opening play featured highly-touted freshman and former Buchanan/Sanger star Jalen Cropper.
The freshman took the opening handoff on a sweep towards the Trojans sideline. He picked up a few yards, but more importantly, Cropper was given the very first touch against USC.
However, things quickly changed as Reyna fumbled on the 47-yard line, setting up the Trojans’ second score of the game.
Carr ran up the middle for 14 yards and six points, pushing the lead to 13-0 before the subsequent extra point.
The Bulldogs needed time to settle in and once they did, the game changed in favor of the visitors.
Fresno State drove down the field and nearly reached the red zone, but Reyna was unable to reach the first-down marker. His run setup Cesar Silva, who opened his account with a 45-yard field goal.
After USC answered with a Chase McGrath field goal, Derrion Grim pulled the Bulldogs back within seven after an acrobatic touchdown grab over two USC defenders at the goal line and into the endzone.
Reyna saw the seam and lobbed a go-get-it ball and that’s what Grim did, he got it.
USC held a thin 17-10 lead after Grim’s heroics.
But Fresno State clearly had momentum on offense and that seeped into the defense.
The following possession, the Bulldogs defense intercepted Daniels’ throw on the goal line, ending the half.
Fresno State came out of the break down four points and looking for plays from the offense, but what they got was another fumble.
The Bulldogs surrendered the ball to the Trojans, but Arron Mosby returned the favor with a forced fumble, allowing Jaron Bryant to recover the ball. Fresno State capitalized on Silva’s leg with another field goal, cutting the deficit 17-13 in the third quarter.
However, USC answered with a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown from Velus Jones.
The Trojans held a 24-13 lead and never looked back.
Fresno State couldn’t muster a response and found themselves down 31-13 after USC’s Vavae Malepeai punched the ball in for a short run after a Fresno State three-and-out.
But, it seemed as if the scoreline woke Fresno State up late in the game.
Reyna immediately hooked up with Grim on a 52-yard pass down the middle of the field. Fresno State couldn’t find the six points, but they settled for the sure leg of Silva for his third field goal of the night.
Fresno State trailed 31-16 and needed a stand from their defense. The kind of effort and tenacity that Red Wave fans have been accustomed to under Tedford’s tenure.
And they delivered.
The Bulldogs, led by linebacker Mykal Walker (who had 15 tackles on the night) stood up strong against the Trojans, forcing a three-and-out.
Reyna then engineered a 12-play drive, culminating in a touchdown pass to Chris Coleman, Fresno State trailed 31-23 with less than seven minutes remaining.
The Trojans decided to run out the clock late in the fourth, but Walker was having none of it as he blew up the play in the backfield on fourth down.
His efforts set up one last chance for Fresno State.
Reyna hit Coleman again for a 36-yard completion on fourth down, setting Fresno State up inside the Trojans red zone.
However, the drive and game ended as Reyna’s pass looking for Ronnie Rivers was picked off by safety Isaiah Pola-Mao, taking the opening-night victory 31-23.
Fresno State (0-1) now looks to its home opener next Saturday against Minnesota.