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A superb defensive effort sparked a second-half comeback that saw Grand Canyon University upset San Diego State, 22-18. In San Diego, Calif., the ‘Lopes endured a pair of yellow cards at the end of each half to emerge victoriously. Trailing 10-3 at the half, GCU scored three tries in the second half to pull off the upset and secure its second D1A win.
“Our boys really dug deep,” GCU head coach Cam Wyper said. “SDSU is probably one of the best-attacking teams in the nation. For us to hold them out for that last ten minute period was absolutely huge on our guys. I am really stoked with how they defended.”
GCU got it started 14 minutes into the game with an Avery Longrie penalty. SDSU responded to take the lead four minutes later following a quick tap penalty. After back and forth play, GCU was yellow carded for an intentional knock in the 31st minute. The Lope defense withstood the initial barrage, but the Aztecs tacked on a PK at the half to lead 10-3 at the break.
Once back at full strength, GCU’s Maceo Brown broke the line and dished to Austin Taefu in the open field. The ball eventually found Dominique Iacavino for the try and Longrie’s conversion tied it up at 10-10. The stalemate didn’t last long as SDSU took the lead again with a try and penalty at 55’ and 58’, respectively.
Down 18-10 with a quarter of the match left, Darien Pickett provided the spark that led to GCU closing the gap to one point. Starting at midfield, Pickett stepped and shrugged off multiple defenders to the five-meter line where Brendon Curle took it the rest of the way for the try.
With the momentum, GCU took the lead with a fantastic counterattack. Pass after pass resulted in a 65-meter team try capped off by a Cameron Dodson score. The conversion failed, but GCU held the 22-18 with 13 minutes left.
Looking to close out the game, things got harder for the Lopes when they were carded for a high tackle in the 70th minute. SDSU took control and pounded the defense for almost entirety of the last ten minutes. The GCU defense withstood strike after strike and multiple restarts. When the final whistle sounded, the Lopes took home a 22-18 win over SDSU.
Speaking on the effort to defend the last ten minutes of each half with a man disadvantage, Wyper responded, “It shows that we have a lot of character and heart to step up. We did the little things right, defend and tackle and do the job that needs to be done to get the result. SDSU is one of the best teams in the nation. They have really good players and some slick outside backs that made it pretty tricky for us. Our guys showed a lot of heart, were able to step up, and lucky enough to hold them out.”
GCU’s next test is at BYU on Saturday. With the encouraging win versus SDSU under its belt, Wyper said, “It doesn’t get bigger than BYU. They are one of the best teams in D1A. For us, it’s just about heading into this week and looking what we need to work on. The defense was a strong positive for us, but on offense, we need to maintain the ball a lot more and not make so many unforced errors. If we can put it together, we can be competitive with any team in the nation. That was the reason why I scheduled so many top teams. Throw us in the deep end and see if we can swim.”