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Utah State comeback falls short; Aggies lose 7th straight to Boise State


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BOISE β€” Utah State nearly pulled off a win for the ages on Friday in Idaho.

Utah State trailed 21-0 in the first half against Boise State, but the Aggies rallied to a 28-23 deficit with the offense in the red zone and a chance to stun 31,402 fans at Albertsons Stadium.

In the end, it was too good to be true.

Considering Utah State's first-half performance and its history against the Broncos β€” the Aggies had lost six straight and hadn't won in Boise since 1996 β€” a chance to overcome a three-score deficit on the Smurf Turf seemed improbable; and ultimately it was, as the Aggies lost 42-23.

But for a moment, despite an awful offensive performance in the first half, and injuries that have plagued the defensive secondary, there was a real opportunity for the Aggies to complete the comeback against a Broncos team bound for the Mountain West championship next week.

After a 41-yard completion from Cooper Legas to Justin McGriff to put the Aggies just 15 yards from the end zone with under three minutes to play and a chance to win, the offense stalled out.

Legas was tackled for a loss on third-and-6 on an attempted quarterback draw, and then he threw an interception on fourth down to give Boise State the ball back with 1:28 left in the game.

Two plays later, Boise State quarterback Taylen Green was in the end zone on a 91-yard run, and then Broncos safety Seyi Oladipo intercepted Legas on the ensuing possession and returned it for a touchdown for the final score.

Too good to be true.

"You'd like to finish there. You'd like to finish and find a way to get the ball in the end zone and see what happens with two minutes left on the clock," Utah State head coach Blake Anderson said. "We've got to do that. If we're going to win championships here, that's a team you've got to beat in that situation."

"Disappointed for the guys but not in them. We battled all day and made too many mistakes to beat a good football team. But you've got to be proud of fighting back, making it a one-score game, and having a chance to go ahead with as difficult as it was to move the ball early and as talented as they are in all areas of their football team."

The Aggies, who trailed 28-10 in the third quarter, came alive late. Legas found Terrell Vaughn for a 75-yard touchdown catch to cut the score to 28-17 with 10 seconds left in the third quarter. And then following an Aggies stop, the team manufactured a drive that was capped off by an 8-yard rushing touchdown by Calvin Tyler Jr. to cut the lead to 28-23 with 7:59 remaining.

Despite going 7-of-16 for 43 passing yards in the first half, Legas finished the day throwing for 306 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions on 23-of-40 passing. Vaughn had eight receptions for 148 yards, including his 75-yard touchdown, and four carries for 22 yards and a touchdown.

Minus a handful of huge plays from Green, the Aggies defense played well and forced seven tackles for loss and limited the Boise State rushing attack. A pass break up from AJ Vongphachanh on a third down forced Boise State to punt and give Utah State the ball back with 5:28 remaining.

"Our conversation was, 'This is a 60-minute game, not a 30-minute game.' And don't panic, just stay with it, it's gonna take a while," Anderson said. "Just stay close, and let the way we condition and what we do and how we play to take over. And as you watched the game, it did.

"They played physical football and it took us a while to start turning things in our favor. (We) started getting the game out in grass, started letting tempo play, letting our pressure defense be a factor."

The comeback attempt was necessary due to a forgettable first half.

Early on, it appeared the Aggies would lose to the Broncos in the same way they had in recent years β€” underperform against a superior team and watch the score get ugly in a hurry.

In the first six drives of the game, the Aggies offense was less efficient than cooking a turkey on a car engine and mustered just 42 yards of offense. The run game wasn't working, and Legas couldn't hit any receivers.

Meanwhile, Boise State took advantage of a secondary without Gurvan Hall (dismissed from the team), Micheal Anyanwu (hand), and Ike Larson (knee). AJ Carter (foot) started the game but didn't finish it.

Green passed for three touchdowns to take a commanding 21-0 lead, including back-to-back touchdown throws to Eric McAlister for 25 yards and 6 yards, respectively.

"If anybody else went down, you were going to play corner," Anderson joked. "That's kind of where we're at.

"Most of the big plays that happened in the first half, if you go back and watch the tape, you're going to see true freshman that have never played before, walk-ons, scout team players β€”never played before β€” triple backups, they attacked us where they had to."

Late in the first half, Legas found success with his legs to move the ball downfield, and Vaughn scored on fourth-and-goal to cut the deficit to 21-7 by halftime. On the opening drive of the third quarter, Vaughn received the pitch and passed it to Broc Lane in the end zone on third-and-goal; Lane, however, dropped the pass.

The Aggies had to settle for a field goal, and Boise State was in the end zone moments later to go up 28-10 with 10:22 left.

The majority of the second half, then, belonged to the Aggies, and the deficit was nearly overcome. But it wasn't enough.

"I'm proud of the resiliency, but right now all I can do is taste the loss; I'm just pissed off," Anderson said. "I'm proud of the guys. I'm pissed at us as coaches because when we get them in that situation, we've got to find a way to dial it up and get them in (the end zone)."

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