LOGAN — Friday night in Logan had the makings of a game that could go wayward for the Aggies.
A number of factors contributed to this: 1) Utah State was fresh off an emotional win against Washington State last week; 2) they were playing North Dakota, the No. 9 team in the FCS; 3) several unforeseen things happened early on in the evening.
Ten minutes before the 7 p.m. kickoff at Maverik Stadium, a thunderstorm rolled through the Cache Valley area, delaying kickoff to 8:15 p.m.. Then, the lights in Maverik Stadium abruptly turned off, pushing the kickoff back an additional 14 minutes. When the game finally began at 8:29, North Dakota scored three straight touchdowns to take a 21-7 first-quarter lead.
Withstanding it all, Utah State won the game 48-24. The Aggies improve to 2-0 on the season for the first time since 2012; and it's the first time a new coach has gone 2-0 in his first year since Dick Romney — yea, that Romney — did in 1918.
"Obviously, very frustrated with how we started, but have a ton of respect for the team we played," Aggies head coach Blake Anderson said after the game. "I told the team, just be ready when the time comes. We're both going to go out at the same time. I thought (North Dakota) did a better job of being ready earlier and we did a better job of being ready late."
The victory cemented Logan Bonner as the starting quarterback, too. Leading 10 of 12 drives for the Aggies, he went 21-of-33 passing for a career-high 390 yards, four touchdowns and an interception.
He had three touchdown passes of 40 or more yards — big passing plays that defined the game for the Aggies. In the first quarter, Bonner hit senior Brandon Bowling for a 54-yard touchdown up the middle to tie the game 7-7.
In the third quarter, he hit senior Deven Thompkins on a bubble screen, who ran it 75 yards down the sideline to give the Aggies their first lead 27-24; Thompkins finished with a career-high 172 receiving yards on eight receptions. In the fourth quarter, Bonner hit junior Derek Wright 41-yards in stride to put the game away 41-24.
"Well, he did what he's supposed to do. He distributed with all the guys that can run because he sure cannot," Anderson quipped. "And I thought when we needed to, in some key situations — third, fourth downs, with the game on the line, when it's tight, one-score game, he made some big throws."
Bonner making big throws was necessary for much of the game because an inauspicious start from the defense put the Aggies in a two-touchdown hole.
Utah State gave up 195 yards of offense and three touchdowns in the first quarter. The secondary, who certainly missed the presence of injured senior safety Shaq Bond, looked sporadic; they missed assignments in the open field and gave up some big gains.
Credit also goes to North Dakota, who came out with some luster.
The Fighting Hawks opened the game with a 71-yard drive capped off by a trick play. Quarterback Tommy Schuster pitched the ball to receiver Brock Boltmann, who hit receiver Bo Belquist for the 13-yard touchdown pass
The following possession, North Dakota managed to flank the Aggies blitz with a screen pass from Luke Skokna that went for 32 yards. Schuster capped it off with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Garret Maag. In the final drive of the quarter, backup quarterback Quincy Vaughn came into the game and found Maag for a touchdown to take a 21-7 lead.
Early in the second quarter, the Aggies made a stand. On third-and-five from their own 45, Schuster threw it to Boltmann in the flat. He was met by junior Dominic Tatum, who made the open-field tackle to force the first Fighting Hawks punt of the game.
The play proved to change the tide of the game. North Dakota gained just 244 yards and a field goal in the final three quarters. Linebacker Justin Rice led the way with 10 tackles and two interceptions, safety Hunter Reynolds had nine tackles, and striker Cash Gilliam had six.
"I think some guys and leadership in the group stepped up and challenged each other," Anderson said about his defenses' turn around. "Coaches did a good job of making a few minor adjustments but mainly, we just simplified. ... I think we built some confidence and we got a couple of stops. If you can see from that point momentum swung back in our favor."
The defensive stops translated into success on offense. The Aggies scored on all three second-quarter drives. Two field goals from Connor Coles — who is still a perfect 8-8 kicking in his Aggie career — cut the score to 21-13. Before the half, a rushing touchdown from junior Calvin Tyler Jr. cut it to a one-score game at the break. Tyler Jr. finished with a team-high 72 rushing yards on 14 attempts.
Bonner opened the second half with an interception to cornerback CJ Siegel. Starting their drive at Utah State's 29, North Dakota was held to a field goal. From then on it was all Aggies. The next offensive possession, Bonner hit Thompkins for a bubble screen, who took it to the house to give Utah State a 24-21 lead.
The North Dakota offense failed to get anything going for the remainder of the game, while the Aggies continued to make plays. Tyler Jr. dove into the end zone on fourth down to stretch the lead to 31-21 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. On the subsequent possession, Bonner hit Wright to make it 38-21.
After Rice made a goal-line interception with 2:26 to go to keep North Dakota out of the end zone, quarterback Andrew Peasley capped things off with a 59 scamper to turn the game into a rout.
"I couldn't be happier for Andrew Peasley," Anderson said. "Obviously, he wants to be playing more but he goes the last drive and busts one for a touchdown. Nothing made my heart feel any better tonight."
Utah State now turns their attention to conference play. They take on Air Force in Colorado Springs on Saturday.