FRESNO, Calif. -- Twenty-seven first half points and a 10-point halftime lead had Utah State (2-6, 1-3) thinking upset on the road Saturday at Fresno State (5-3, 4-1). But two missed field goals and the inability to execute in critical situations during the second half doomed the Aggies once again, as they lost to the Bulldogs, 31-27.
"It's about the third time this year we've lost in the fourth quarter. It never gets any easier, it just keeps getting harder and harder," said USU junior receiver Eric Moats in a post-game radio interview. "The teams there, we're right there, but for some reason we just can't put it away. It's just something we've got to learn to do."
Coming off its first conference win of the season, USU played with a fire on the road -- forcing the Bulldogs into two second quarter turnovers. The Aggies turned those turnovers into 10 points.
After falling behind 17-10, the Aggies scored 17 points in the second quarter. USU quarterback Diondre Borel and sophomore running back Robert Turbin each played a major role in the push, and each recorded one-yard touchdown runs.
Turbin, who finished with 138 yards rushing on 19 carries, outshined Fresno State's Ryan Mathews - the nations leading rusher - during the first three quarters of play.
"Mathews has had a great season so far, but I think Robert Turbin is the best back in the WAC, no question," Moats said. "The work ethic that Turbo has on and off the field, the leadership qualities that he shows, he's just a wonderful young man and he leads this team on and off the field."
Following Borel's score, with less than two minutes remaining in the period, safety Rajric Coleman intercepted Bulldog quarterback Ryan Colburn, giving the ball to USU at its own 44-yard line. The Aggies were able to move the ball down to the Fresno State six-yard line, before the clock forced USU to settle for a 23-yard Chris Ulinski field goal.
However, in what has become a familiar scene for Aggie fans, coaches and players, one great half of play doesn't add up to a win. Favored by 17-points coming in, Fresno State methodically began to work its way back into the game.
After trading punts early in the second half, the Bulldogs struck first when running back Lonyae Miller scored on a two-yard run midway through the third quarter. The score pulled Fresno State back within a field goal of the Aggies.
For the remainder of the third, the defenses stepped up again, and neither team had a chance to score until the Aggies were able to move the ball down to the Bulldog 14-yard line in the fourth quarter. An incomplete pass on third down forced the Aggies, once again, to settle for a field goal.
Ulinksi subsequently missed the 31-yard attempt, giving even more momentum back to the home team.
"We've got to be able to score in the red zone, get some more touchdowns," USU head coach Gary Andersen said in a post-game radio interview. "The game becomes physical in those situations, and at this point we're struggling on offense and defense in the red zone - to get touchdowns, and to not allow our opponents to get touchdowns. We need to improve in those areas."
The six points left on the field by Ulinski would have been enough for USU to hold onto the lead, but Moats agreed with his coach that the blame is as much on the offense as the kicker.
"It's not all on Chris, a lot of it's on the offense. We've got to be able to get seven instead of three in those situations," he said. "If we score at least two more touchdowns when we're down in the red zone it changes the entire game."
All four of USU's field goal attempts came after moving the ball inside the Bulldogs 20-yard line.
Fresno State got back to work after the miss, retaking the lead on a 10-yard jaunt by Mathews with just less than five minutes remaining in the game. After starting slow, Mathews finished with 185 yards on 23 carries.
With two timeouts, the Aggies had plenty of time for some heroics of their own, but it was not to be.
Despite piling up 503 yards of total offense, USU got very little of that on its final drive, as the Aggies were held to their only three-and-out of the game. Mathews was then able to put away the game for the Bulldogs, and Borel never got another shot to lead the Aggies to victory.
Fresno State's comeback overshadowed another great performance by the junior signal caller, one in which he ran for a career-high 105 yards, and completed 20-of-31 passes for 240 yards and no interceptions. Borel has an 11-1 touchdown to interception ratio on the season.
"I thought Diondre was absolutely fantastic in getting out of trouble once again. There's a number of times that young man gets us out of trouble with his legs, then is able to throw the ball downfield and make big type plays," Andersen said. "I've never been around anybody like him, and he's a special, special player. That kid can only do so much, I don't think Diondre Borel could play any better."
For USU's fourth consecutive game, the final outcome was decided by less than a touchdown. However, it was the third time in those four games the Aggies found themselves on the losing end of that margin.
USU will stay on the road for another week as they head to Hawaii to take on the Warriors (2-6, 0-5) which lost to Nevada Saturday, 31-21. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.