SAN DIEGO — The long season is only getting longer for Coach Denny Stolz and the San Diego State football team.
The Aztecs lost their fifth game in a row and their sixth in seven games. This time it was to Stanford, 44-40, in front of a crowd of 25,676 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium Saturday night. To those who have followed the Aztecs' season, the game followed a familiar pattern.
There were a lot of turnovers, a lot of points, a lot of passes by Todd Santos and a big, empty feeling when it was all over.
This one ended with wide receiver Alfred Jackson leaping in vain for Santos' pass into the end zone on the final play of the game.
The loss overshadowed the greatest statistical performance of Santos' career.
He completed 40 of 60 passes for 536 yards, setting school records in each category. He also passed for 5 touchdowns, tying a career best.
"Todd was outstanding," Stolz said. "The defense gave us a chance at the end. We just got a little bit too far behind, I guess."
The Aztecs twice rallied within seven points after falling behind by 20 points early in the first and second halves.
But each time the Cardinal responded. The final blow came on a 41-yard field goal by John Hopkins with 6:14 to play. It was Hopkins' third field goal of the game and gave Stanford a 44-34 lead.
"We played well and didn't win," Stolz said. "It's 41-20, and I thought we still had a chance to win. We just had a couple of huge blitz mistakes, and they got a couple of easy touchdowns.
"We played the best competitive defense we played all year. It was hard to believe when I looked up at the scoreboard it was 44-40."
Stanford won for the second week in a row after losing its first four games.
The Aztecs are off their worst start since the 1980 team went 1-8 before winning its last three games. The loss matched the five-game losing streak of the 1985 team.
But the only records that are starting to matter are the ones Santos is chasing.
His 40 completions broke the school record of 35 set by Matt Kofler against Colorado State in 1981 and tied by Santos against Utah Sept. 12. His 60 passes broke the record of 57 set by Kofler against Air Force in 1981. And his 536 yards broke the school record of 524 set by Dennis Shaw against Southern Mississippi in 1968.
Santos had attempted 49 passes both against New Mexico last year and against Wyoming in 1985. He had passed for 462 yards against Utah Sept. 12. The five touchdown passes tied his best set against Stanford in 1985.
His 536 yards also helped move him up four places to fifth on the NCAA Division I-A career passing yardage list. Santos has 9,606 career yards. He needs to average 203.4 yards in the Aztecs' final five games to break the record of 10,623 held by Kevin Sweeney of Fresno State.
But the impressive statistics by Santos were tempered by the fact that his two turnovers led to 10 of Stanford's points. The Cardinal turned a Santos interception and fumble into a touchdown and field goal. It did the same thing with two fumbles by tailback Ron Slack.
The Aztecs scraped their way back into the game by scoring the last 13 points of the first half only to throw it away on the first play of the second half when Slack fumbled after catching a pass from Santos.
Brad Humphreys, senior strong safety, recovered at the SDSU 32. With redshirt freshman quarterback Brian Johnson completing passes of 9 and 15 yards to wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, the Cardinal reached the Aztecs 3. Jon Volpe, a 5-foot, 7-inch, 195-pound redshirt freshman tailback, then carried over on his second try as the Cardinal took a 27-13 lead just 2:48 into the second half.
But the Cardinal let the Aztecs back in the game, if only for a few minutes, when Johnson was sacked by tackle Milt Wilson and fumbled. Defensive end Brett Faryniarz recovered at the Stanford 9. On third and goal from the Cardinal 8, Paul Hewitt caught Santos' pass at the goal line and bulled over for the touchdown. The Aztecs trailed, 27-20, with 7:03 to play in the third quarter.
Then it all fell apart.
Stanford scored the next two touchdowns--the first on a long drive, the second after Santos committed his second turnover of the game.
Johnson capped the 64-yard, 12-play drive with a 1-yard keeper with 2:25 left in the third period.
Santos was sacked and fumbled on the next series. Outside linebacker Bruce Lang recovered at the SDSU 15. Four plays later, Volpe scored his second touchdown on a 2-yard run.
Santos did his best to rally the Aztecs again. He completed touchdown passes of 11 yards to Monty Gilbreath, and 14 and 4 yards to Hewitt in the fourth quarter. That gave him 60 touchdown passes in his career, breaking the school record of 58 set by Dennis Shaw in 1968-69.
It it will be just another footnote in a season whose story has already been written.