Mids are morning toast, 45-31 Aztecs catch Navy asleep in a.m. start

September 06, 1997|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO -- Less than a month ago, San Diego State senior wide receiver Az-zahir Hakim sat in a California jail, uncertain not only of his football future, but of his life.

The All-America candidate had been arrested on suspicion of joining two teammates in the gang rape of an 18-year old woman at his home in El Cerrito and was being held on $1 million bail. After two days of turmoil and negative publicity, Hakim was released when the district attorney ruled there was insufficient evidence.

Yesterday, he made headlines of a positive nature with a spectacular display on offense in leading the Aztecs to a 45-31, ++ opening-game victory over Navy before a Friday morning "businessman's crowd" of 21,176 at Qualcomm Stadium.

Hakim stunned the veteran Navy secondary by catching six passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns, and also returned a second-quarter kickoff 85 yards for a score.

Every time the Midshipmen staged a rally, Hakim, with considerable help from first-time quarterback starter Kevin McKechnie (16-for-20, 371 yards), found a way to discourage them.

After senior Aztecs flanker Taj Johnson broke a 31-31 tie with a 78-yard reception, Hakim supplied the finishing touch by beating safety Rashad Smith for a 47-yard touchdown catch with 6: 29 left to play.

After the game, Hakim declined to speak with the media, even about football. San Diego State publicist John Rosenthal said the player "was experiencing personal problems." Reportedly, Hakim was disturbed when the school newspaper wrote a story this week on the rape charges.

Coach Ted Tollner, who had acknowledged that Hakim's NFL draft status could be damaged by the rape investigation, which police say has not officially ended, praised Hakim for maintaining his game focus.

"I've seen him do things that I haven't seen many people do," said Tollner, who has also served as an NFL assistant.

Down the hall, Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie was practicing damage control. Coming off a 9-3 finish last year and an Aloha Bowl victory over California, the Midshipmen had begun the new season with high expectations and even adopted "Win 11 in '97" as a slogan.

But that dream was quickly shattered by a fast-paced San Diego State passing game that simply had too many options for the Mids' defense.

"Speed kills," said senior safety and co-captain Gervy Alota, playing in his hometown.

"We knew they had fast receivers, but we didn't put any pressure on their quarterback and left our cornerbacks out on an island. We'd stop them on first and second down, and then we'd get burned by a big play."

One of the main problems was that the Navy defensive line could not penetrate San Diego State's experienced offensive line that averaged 6 feet 5 and more than 300 pounds.

"We tried blitzing several times, but he [McKechnie] always got away," Alota said. "They ran verticals all day and simply wore down our defensive backs."

Navy did its best to counter San Diego State's quick-strike offense with an effective ground game. The Midshipmen put together matching 76-yard scoring drives in the second quarter to trail 21-14 at halftime.

Senior quarterback Chris McCoy (27 rushes for 121 yards), being hyped for the Heisman Trophy, put his running skills on display in the second half. He made at least three dazzling cuts on a 54-yard scoring sprint in the third quarter to close to 24-21.

The Aztecs answered quickly with a 63-yard scoring drive. Navy seemed to get a break when McKechnie, with first-and-goal from the 1, was chased back to the 12 and then charged with intentional grounding, pushing the ball to the 18.

But on the next play, McKechnie hooked up with halfback Damon Gourdine, who eluded a defender in the left corner of the end zone for a 31-21 cushion.

Again, Navy fought back. A 43-yard McCoy pass to slotback Jason Wolf pushed the ball to the Aztecs' 3. Two plays later, fullback Tim Cannada bulled over from the 1 for his second touchdown.

Momentum seemed to be swinging Navy's way when Rashad Smith recovered a McKechnie fumble on the San Diego State 47. A 20-yard screen pass to Wolf set up the tying 33-yard field goal by Tom Vanderhorst, who had missed one from 44 yards on the Mids' first offensive series.

"We knew it might come down to the fourth quarter," Weatherbie said. "We never quit, but we just couldn't make the big plays on either side of the ball to win the game."

San Diego State needed only four plays to regain the lead, 38-31, on Johnson's 78-yard grab, and then the Aztecs' defense sacked McCoy twice to ruin Navy's comeback plans before Hakim provided the game-breaker.

Navy .......... 0 .. 14 .. 14 ... 3 .. -- .. 31

San Diego State 7 .. 14 .. 10 .. 14 .. -- .. 45

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