San Jose – The Valley Cup fight wasn’t much of a competition as San Jose State tasted defeat one last time on Thanksgiving Day, 40-9, against rival Fresno State.
The Spartans (5-7, 3-5 Mountain West) failed to qualify for a ball game at the end of the regular season after their second consecutive defeat at CEFCU Stadium in front of 15,323 fans.
Last year’s Mountain West title and the perfect regular season should seem like a mirage after San Jose State finished a similar record for the 2019 pre-pandemic campaign.
The Spartans fell 23-9 at the break after settling on field goals from Matt Mercurio during three trips to the red zone and creating no momentum to attack. San Jose State QB Nick Starkle – 19 of 42 for 260 yards – and potential successor Nick Nash both lost touchdown in the first half as turnovers plagued the team until the end.
Down 26-9 midway through the third quarter, the Spartans missed a timeout in third and short in midfield. Tyler Nevins, one of the players in the pre-game party, was stuffed off the streak of scrimmage, and SJSU coach Brent Brennan chose to play rather than go fourth.
On the drive that followed, Fresno State (9-3, 6-2) played a trick play as the last dagger—a jet-set sweep pass to the rear with quarterback Jake Hainer turning a 29-yard receiver to Jalen Cropper.
Hainer, the East Bay producer of Monte Vista High, threw for 343 yards and four touchdowns, including a 45-yard bomb for Jordan Mims’ run in the second quarter as he left the Menlo-Atherton high school graduate wide open during his bust in cover.
Haener also tackled Ronnie Rivers back for 13 yards TD in the fourth quarter. Rivers, who hails from Freedom High in East Bay, ran for 65 yards on 14 buggies and now needs just 57 yards to outpace his father, Ron, to finish second on the school’s fast roster.
Fresno State could qualify for the Conference Championship game if 22nd state San Diego loses to Boise State on Friday.