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MTSU wins thrilling 2022 Hawaii Bowl 25-23 over SDSU

MTSU SDSU

There are several non-New Year’s Sox Bowl games that are considered iconic or rememberable. The 2022 EasyPost Hawaii Bowl is in serious contention among them. This bowl game is an excellent opportunity for smaller schools to get a trip to Hawaii as it is a treat for players, coaches, and personnel to take in the rewards of a successful season. While the trip for the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders and the San Diego State Aztecs was enjoyable, the game played on Christmas Eve was a game to be remembered more.

The Aztecs came into this game as the favorites due to their defense, but at the beginning of the game, it was their offense and special teams that got them an early lead. As the game progressed, the Blue Raiders developed an impressive rhythm to get back in the game. Before long, San Diego State went into halftime with a 14-13 lead. The Blue Raiders and Aztecs battled through a series of back-and-forth scores. The Hawaii Bowl featured six lead changes with three of them occurring in the fourth quarter. In the end, Middle Tennessee State came through to secure a 25-23 lead with 2:05 left in the game. This is the Blue Raiders’ fourth postseason bowl in program history.

MTSU wins thrilling 2022 Hawaii Bowl 25-23 over SDSU

SDSU Starts Strong Against MTSU

The Aztecs started start in all areas of the game. San Diego State outgained Middle Tennessee State in total yards accounting for 177-to-12. Defensively, the Aztecs were to create a serious of pressure in the backfield as defensive tackle Jonah Tavai sacked Blue Raiders quarterback Chase Cunningham on 3rd down in Middle Tennessee’s second drive of the game. The Blue Raiders were 0-of-4 on 3rd down attempts in the first quarter. Aztecs quarterback Jalen Mayden completed 5-of-10 of his passes for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns. Mayden developed a solid connection early in the game against the Blue Raiders’ defense.

Middle Tennessee Clawed Back in the Game 

With the Blue Raiders down two touchdowns, they knew the run game was going to non-exist against a tenacious Aztec defense. The offense of Middle Tennessee relied on the passing ability of Cunningham. After passing for only 26 yards in the first quarter, Cunningham threw for 210 yards in the last three quarters. From the beginning of the second quarter, Cunningham completed 21-of-32 of his passes for 210 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception.

Cunningham was finding an open receiver as he was scrambling from the pressure of the Aztecs’ front seven. This was an Aztecs defense that got away with their secondary not having to hold their man coverages due to the efficient play of their pass rush. The Aztecs’ defense accounted for 7 and 12 tackles for loss, but Cunningham’s ability to escape the pocket with his legs was the biggest reason for the Blue Raiders’ offensive boost in the second half. His most impactful receiver was Jaylin Lane, who caught 10 receptions for 111 yards and a touchdown.

MTSU Completed a Thrilling Finish Over SDSU

San Diego State took a 14-13 lead into halftime and had a chance to extend their lead by scoring for the first time since the first quarter. After an Aztecs punt and a missed field goal, they had to regain their momentum, but a critical interception by Mayden gave the Blue Raiders the push they needed to kick a 26-yard field goal from Zeke Rankin. This field goal by Rankin gave Middle Tennessee State their first lead of the game. SDSU was able to respond with a long drive that ended in a 39-yard field goal from Jake Browning. This gave SDSU the 17-16 lead.

Cunningham delivered the game’s final touchdown early in the fourth quarter on a 16-yard pass from Jaylin Lane. San Diego State had momentum in the fourth quarter but encountered two critical turnovers. A limited Blue Raiders’ offense was able to limit their turnovers and extend drives to put the Aztecs deep in their territory. While the Aztecs were the more aggressive team, the Blue Raiders were the more efficient team with the ball.

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