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Utah State edges out Colorado State in dramatic fashion

Utah State Aggies head coach Blake Anderson talks with Utah State Aggies quarterback Logan Bonner (1) in Logan on Friday, Oct. 1, 2021.

Utah State Aggies head coach Blake Anderson talks with Utah State Aggies quarterback Logan Bonner (1) in Logan on Friday, Oct. 1, 2021. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

LOGAN — Satisfaction turned into panic in a matter of seconds Friday night in Logan.

With a hard-fought victory over Colorado State nearly in hand, Utah State failed to notch a final first down to ice the game and were forced to punt the ball back to the Rams with 41 seconds left to play.

Trailing by 2 points and no timeouts remaining, the visitors from Fort Collins, Colorado, managed to go 61 yards in six plays to set up a 41-yard field goal attempt with 11 seconds to play.

Opting not to spike the ball and stop the clock ahead of the attempt, Colorado State rushed out their field goal unit to kick the game winner as time winded down.

Much to the delight of the 21,243 fans packed into Maverik Stadium, Cayden Camper's kick hooked wide and Utah State escaped Homecoming Night with a 26-24 victory.

Perhaps the "Spirit of the Scotsman" gave the kick a little nudge to the left, lifting the Aggies to a 5-2 record on the season. Utah State now holds sole possession of first place in the Mountain division of the Mountain West Conference.

"What a game," Utah State head coach Blake Anderson said. "I'd have loved to see us get some more points on the board there late and put this thing out of reach so it didn't have to be quite so entertaining at the end, but a great team win against a really good football team. I'm proud of our guys. They're killing me — beyond stressful — but making me beyond proud as well."

The final play, in which Anderson admitted he "thought they were going to spike it," adds another chapter to what has been a wacky past couple of games in the Utah State-Colorado State divisional rivalry. But it was a dramatic ending that easily could have been avoided by the Aggies.

After Connor Coles, who finished a career-high 4-of-4 on field goals, booted in a 34-yard kick with 5:03 left to play and to give Utah State a 26-17 lead, the Aggies looked to their defense to close the game out.

Utah State played well defensively all game and came up with big plays in the previous two possessions to keep the Rams offense at arm's length.

With 12:35 left in the game, Nick Heninger and Philip Paea downed a scrambling quarterback Todd Centeio on fourth down to force a turnover. The next possession, a pass rush by Byron Vaughns resulted in an incomplete pass to hold the Rams to a field goal with 9:05 to play.

On the night, the Aggies forced three turnovers, had four tackles for loss and forced stops on eight Colorado State possessions.

But hoping for one final stand with 4:52 to play, Utah State's defense finally began to break down. Colorado State went 73 yards down field in just five plays, and Centeio connected with tight end Gary Williams for a touchdown to cut the lead to 2.

After stopping the Aggies offense and getting the ball back, Centeio made four completions to get the ball in field goal range.

"I'd say we hold people to 24 pints, we're supposed to win," Anderson said. "They created turnovers. They made it difficult for those guys to move the ball at times. We're all really frustrated with that last series; we'd like to get them off the field, you know, three-and-out, four-and-out, and we couldn't do that. But they did a lot of good things to get to that point."

The defense certainly made things interesting to end the game; but for most of the game, it was the Aggies offense that failed to put a bow on things.

Utah State started out strong, posting 208 yards of offense and 20 points in the first half to help lead the team to its first halftime lead of the season, 20-14.

Both touchdowns were connections from quarterback Logan Bonner to wide receiver Derek Wright, and both were one-on-one jump balls in the southwest corner of the end zone, which Wright managed to come down with. The second one, coming at 7:19 left in the half, was particularly impressive.

On fourth-and-5, Bonner launched it from his back hip, and Wright — with his back facing the ball — extended his arms and reeled it in Willie Mays like fashion.

"I didn't really feel like I had a great opportunity to go up for it just because it was coming straight now," Wright said. "I just decided to shed off (my defender) and luckily I made the catch."

Wright finished the night with three catches for 64 yards. Not to be outdone was wide receiver Deven Thompkins, who had his third straight night over 100 yards, reeling in six for 104 yards.

But in the second half, the Aggies passing offense began to crumble; Bonner finished with 86 second-half passing yards. Much of the credit goes to the Rams defensive line, who Anderson admitted was "really good up front." They pressured Bonner all night long and sacked him eight times.

After a 42-yard field goal from Coles to make it 23-14 to open the half, Utah State punted on three straight possessions and failed to extend their lead.

Aided by running back Elelyon Noa, who stepped up in the absence of Calvin Tyler Jr. and rushed for 102 yards, the Aggies found another field goal to extend the lead to 26 late in the fourth quarter. But they failed to find the end zone the entire second half.

"Obviously, we played a better first half than we have in the past, but then we didn't really play the second half like we had in the past," Wright said.

The Aggies still did enough, though, on both sides of the ball. And despite seeing another game come down to the final moments, they found a way to win.

"I love the fact that our guys go straight from that challenge, that will keep playing for 60 minutes, and that we've got enough energy there late to do it," Anderson said. "So if that's what it takes for this team to get a win, we gonna get comfortable in that environment."

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