Logan • The preceding days have been filled with speculation of Utah and Utah State’s football rivalry coming to an end. At the very least, the Utes’ days of traveling to Logan looked to be finished.
Using an opportunistic defense, just enough offense and the dual-threat playmaking of quarterback Chuckie Keeton, Utah State stunned the Utes 27-20 in an overtime thriller before a sellout crowd at Romney Stadium and a game nationally televised on ESPN2 that ended with the student section rushing the field.
After 12 consecutive defeats to Utah, Friday’s result marked the first victory for the Aggies in the rivalry since 1997. Utah State starts a season 2-0 for the first time in that same span, and it could well serve as the defining win of the Gary Andersen era.
“This was a great win for our program, and a great win by a tough-minded group of kids,” Andersen said. “I’m actually kind of speechless. Obviously, this was a tremendous victory for us. For us to beat a talented team like Utah, and a team that I have so much respect for, it’s a great day to be an Aggie.”
The Utes, conversely, were left in tatters.
“They outcoached us, both sides of the ball, special teams,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “They played harder than we did. It was even a miracle that we were in the game after our first-half performance.”
USU’s victory wasn’t assured until senior cornerback Will Davis broke up a fourth-down pass intended for DeVonte Christopher. Overtime wasn’t assured until Utah’s Coleman Peterson shanked a potential game-winning 52-yard field goal with two seconds remaining, not once but twice. And victory wasn’t possible without Keeton’s 23-yard scramble on USU’s first overtime possession, culminated with Kerwynn Williams’ touchdown run that would prove to be the deciding score.
Along the way, the Aggies built a 13-0 first quarter lead, gave it all back in the second half, survived their own mistakes and turnovers and made all of the big plays when it mattered in the fourth quarter and the extra session.
“We just kept playing,” Keeton said. “We knew that we were going to go through some adversity because Utah was just too good a team to not come back. We just had to finish what we started, and we had to act like we knew that we belonged.”
In the past, that’s been an issue for Utah State. A year ago, the Aggies blew chances to beat several big-name teams, including Auburn in the 2011 season opener. On Friday night, all of the big plays resided with Andersen’s team.
Keeton went 22-for-32 for 216 yards and two touchdowns through the air. He rushed 17 times for 86 yards. Williams, the senior who is a first-time starter at running back, rushed 17 times for 95 yards and a touchdown. Both he and the running game got stronger as the game went on, surprisingly becoming more effective against Utah’s stellar defensive line, which had to go most of the stretch run without Joe Kruger, who threw a punch at Keeton and was ejected.
“We had trust in our offensive line,” Williams said. “We knew that front five was going to get it done and that there would be holes to run through.”
Defensively, senior linebacker Bojay Filimoeatu came up with a career-high 12 tackles. Utah’s John White IV was held to 96 yards on 27 carries, four yards shy of the 100-yard plateau. The Utes are 9-0 when he hits the century mark.
Quietly, Utah State has won seven straight regular-season games. Not so quietly, the Aggies have announced themselves as a program to be taken seriously.
R IN SHORT • Utah State needs overtime but defeats Utah for the first time since 1997.
KEY STAT • Aggies quarterback Chuckie Keeton accounts for 302 yards of total offense and two touchdowns.
KEY MOMENT • Senior cornerback Will Davis breaks up a fourth-down pass intended for DeVonte Christopher.