3:00 PM ET, November 24, 2012
Romney Stadium, Logan, UT
Utah State routs Idaho to clinch first outright conference title in 76 years
LOGAN, Utah -- Utah State players had the word "NEVER" written in black marker across the white tape on their wrists.
On Saturday, after a 45-9 victory over Idaho, the Aggies (No. 25 AP) can cross off a few more goals that they never had accomplished.
The first was a 10-win season, their first in the 114 years Utah State has had a football program.
The second is their first Western Athletic Conference title after eight years, and their last in the league before moving up to the Mountain West Conference next year.
Utah State (10-2, 6-0) also secured its first outright conference title in 76 years, and the Aggies' six wins in league play is a first for a team that six years ago won just a single game.
"We definitely know we did something big, but I don't know if we understand the significance," said senior cornerback Will Davis, part of a class that is tied for second-winningest in school history.
Davis fittingly had his own first. After intercepting a pass for the fifth straight week, he took it back for a 59-yard touchdown that bumped Utah State's lead to 21-0 with 13:03 left in the first half.
"Oh, man, that was amazing," said Davis, whose string of interceptions is the longest by a Utah State player since 1973. "To finally have a pick-six feels great."
His family and second family, the Utah State fans, were there to celebrate with him afterward.
They figure to be there in Boise as well on Dec. 15 when the Aggies play in their second straight Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, either against Northern Illinois, Kent State, Ball State or Toledo.
That announcement came after thousands of fans stormed the field at Romney Stadium in celebration Saturday after the blowout victory.
They chanted "WAC Champs" as the clock wound down in the fourth, then turned their attention to head coach Gary Andersen, shouting ""Gary, Gary" for one of the hottest coaching candidates around.
Andersen is perhaps the biggest reason for the turnaround for a team once considered a laughingstock. In four years before Andersen arrived, the Aggies were a combined 9-38.
Andersen, drenched after being doused with water following the historic 10th win, made sure some members of his first recruiting class could take a bow.
He substituted out all-everything running back Kerwynn Williams late. Williams finished with 110 yards rushing, including a 52-yard scamper, and 39 yards receiving -- leaving him 39 yards shy of the WAC career record for all-purpose yards.
He opened the scoring with a 19-yard TD catch and also scored on a 14-yard run that bumped Utah State's lead to 38-9 in the fourth.
Quarterback Chuckie Keeton, only a sophomore, also exited early, before a scrum near the sidelines turned the game from hard-fought to ugly for a minute.
Keeton finished 17 of 25 for 133 yards but threw two touchdown passes, the 19-yarder to Williams and a 3-yard TD pass to tight end Kellen Bartlett that bumped Utah State's lead to 28-9 with 9:20 left in the third.
Keeton helped the Aggies pull off a road upset of then-No. 19 Louisiana Tech last week, but Andersen said the quarterback played Saturday despite a bad shoulder.
The Aggies were without free safety McKade Brady because of a broken jaw suffered last week.
But their defense still carried the load, intercepting Taylor Davis three times in the first half and forcing him to fumble in the second.
"I'm proud of the way we fought the entire game. We played hard," said Vandals interim coach Jason Gesser, who replaced the fired Robb Akey the final four games.
"The quarterback position couldn't get it done," Gesser said as two Vandals QBs combined for 52 yards passing. "We stuck around due to the run game (158 yards) before it got away from us. ... The game was kind of like the story of the season -- we shot ourselves in the foot with turnovers."
The bright spot for Idaho (1-11, 1-5) continued to be Lou Groza Award finalist Trey Farquhar. He kicked field goals of 38, 46 yards and 52 yards -- his 11th career field goal of 50 yards or more -- and finished with 60 in his career.
After the miserable end to a miserable season, the Vandals can only wonder who their next coach will be.
Gesser has interviewed for the job but indicated Idaho also is looking at several other candidates.
"I will continue to (recruit) until I'm told otherwise," Gesser said.
Despite the ugly record, Idaho came out fired up Saturday, holding Utah State to minus-6 yards on its first possession -- the first time in six games the Aggies didn't score a touchdown on their opening possession.
The Vandals also intercepted Keeton on his first pass attempt.
It was all Utah State after that, thanks to the Aggies' 21st-rated defense.
Senior linebacker Bojay Filimoeatu's first career interception and 48-yard return gave the Aggies the ball at the Idaho 11. He kidded that he would have scored if he hadn't had "that last plate at Thanksgiving."
Williams was there to finish it for him, catching Keeton's 3rd-and-18 pass and making a defender miss for the early score.
Another mistake led to Utah State's second touchdown.
B.J. Larsen's first career interception gave the Aggies the ball at the Idaho 23 with 3:59 left in the first, and soon after Keeton scored on a 1-yard keeper for a 14-0 lead.
Davis, who halted Colby Cameron's NCAA record streak of 444 consecutive passes without an interception last week in an overtime victory over Louisiana Tech, put the Aggies up 21-0 less than 2 minutes into the second quarter on his interception return.
While Utah State's offense was disappointed in it sluggish performance, no one was apologizing about a chance to go to another bowl.
"We get a second chance," Filimoeatu said of last year's 24-23 loss to Ohio. "We would love to go back, get a win and bring it back to Logan."
The Aggies, including athletic director Scott Barnes, expect Andersen to be part of the bowl and their future despite all the rumors.
"It's a great fit for him, a great fit for us," Barnes said.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||6-19||5-11|
|4th Down Conversions||1-1||0-0|
|TD||09:42||Kerwynn Williams 19 Yd Pass From Chuckie Keeton (Nick Diaz Kick)||0||7|
|TD||01:35||Chuckie Keeton 1 Yd Run (Nick Diaz Kick)||0||14|
|TD||13:03||Will Davis 59 Yd Interception Return (Nick Diaz Kick)||0||21|
|FG||07:59||Trey Farquhar 38 Yd||3||21|
|FG||00:00||Trey Farquhar 46 Yd||6||21|
|FG||09:55||Trey Farquhar 52 Yd||9||21|
|TD||09:20||Kellen Bartlett 3 Yd Pass From Chuckie Keeton (Nick Diaz Kick)||9||28|
|FG||11:37||Nick Diaz 45 Yd||9||31|
|TD||08:53||Kerwynn Williams 14 Yd Run (Nick Diaz Kick)||9||38|
|TD||01:47||Joe Hill 7 Yd Run (Nick Diaz Kick)||9||45|