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Fresno State Football: Valley Roots Have Bulldogs Back in the Top 25

Aaron Mosby, Fresno State Bulldogs Football

Local products, such as defensive end Arron Mosby, have played big roles in Fresno State's strong start to the season, including last Saturday's upset of No. 13 UCLA

PASADENA, Calif. — Outside of Rose Bowl Stadium prior to kickoff of Fresno State's upset of No. 13-ranked UCLA, red-clad groups greeted one another with loud chants in support of the Bulldogs.

By the end of the night, the Fresno State "Red Wave" had even more reason to cheer.

The Bulldogs' 40-37 defeat of UCLA seemed perhaps overdue after Fresno State had already taken another highly ranked Pac-12 team, Oregon, to the wire in Week 1. The recent memory of a 31-24 loss in which the Bulldogs arguably outplayed the now-third-ranked Ducks lingered once the host Bruins took the lead with 54 seconds remaining.

"I don’t want to come up short again like we did at Oregon," Fresno State defensive end Arron Mosby said of his thoughts on the game's closing moments.

The lasting memory coming out of the Rose Bowl was less two weeks prior, and more like two decades ago.

At No. 13, UCLA matched the highest-ranked win for Fresno State since beating Kansas State in 2004.

The Bulldogs' win in Manhattan came in an era under then-head coach Pat Hill when Fresno State routinely played the toughest non-conference schedule in college football — and won plenty of times on those trips.

This season marks the 20th anniversary of the 2001 team, which ascended to No. 8 in the AP Poll after wins over then-No. 10 Oregon State, No. 23 Wisconsin, and that season's Big 12 Conference champion, Colorado.

Even some of the near-misses in the Hill era became the stuff of legend — like the 2005 Bulldogs' trip to USC, which came within a score of preventing the greatest game in college football history from going down on the other side of Los Angeles two months later.

Current Bulldogs were no older than Kindergarten-age then, and the underclassmen on the roster now were not yet born during the landmark 2001 season. But the spirit of today's Fresno State is the same.

Credit the Valley and Fresno State's past for fueling its present.

Jalen Cropper, who completed an outstanding performance of 141 yards on 14 catches with the game-winning touchdown reception at UCLA, stayed home despite recruitment from Power 5 programs (including UCLA) when he was at Sanger and Buchanan High Schools.

"Coming from Sanger, we were always the underdogs," Sanger said. "Fresno State, we're always the underdogs." 

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"Being able to stay home, being able to have my family on the sideline and in the stands, being able to have people who watched me in high school ... it’s a different feeling" he said. "It’s one of the reasons I chose to stay here."

Mosby is another product of Sanger High School, and his two tackles for a loss contributed to the Bulldogs' stifling of UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet, who came into the Week 3 matchup averaging more than 11 yards per carry.

Fresno State held him to 19 yards on six carries.

Running back Ronnie Rivers came to Fresno State from the Bay Area, but his Bulldog roots run deep. His father, Ron Rivers, rushed for more than 1,000 yards on the first Fresno State team to finish a season ranked in the Top 25.

The elder Rivers is a Fresno State Hall of Famer, but Ronnie is making his own mark as evidenced by the two touchdowns scored at UCLA.

Like current Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr before him, who in the past credited watching older brother David during the 2001 season for inspiring him to also play at Fresno State, Ronnie Rivers' familial ties attracted him to the program.

They've also pushed him to excel in Bulldogs red, white, and blue.

"We're a real competitive family. Me and my dad always go back and forth on who's better," Rivers laughed at Mountain West Conference media day in Las Vegas.

Ronnie matches Ron in at least one regard after Week 3: Both were on Bulldogs teams that beat Top 25-ranked, Los Angeles-based opponents.

With those milestones in its history — from the 1992 team to 2001 and the 2018 Mountain West championship squad — Fresno State football has built one of the most fiercely loyal fan bases in the West.

A sea of red — or Wave, as it were — filled the Rose Bowl's south end-zone bleachers, urging the Bulldogs on in their fourth-quarter drives. Security had to prevent some from rushing the field when the Fresno State defense batted down Dorian Thompson-Robinson's last-ditch pass at the end zone as time expired.

"They were louder than UCLA fans, in my opinion," Rivers said while wearing a wide grin. "Just to have that support from them is incredible."

"It felt like we were at home," Mosby said. "They traveled to Oregon when you could hear them when we had stops. Hopefully that can travel to Boise, Wyoming, wherever we go.

"They play a key part in our team," he added. 

The program dubbed the Pride of the Valley also takes pride in the Valley. It's a dynamic that keeps Fresno State winning across generations.

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.