Chuckie Keeton looked to his left and discovered absolutely nothing to prevent Utah State’s biggest football victory in 30 years — or maybe even longer.
All of Utah’s defensive players were on the other side of the field, scrambling desperately to recover as Keeton sprinted toward the end zone.
It would have made a better story if Keeton had scored a touchdown instead of being knocked out of bounds at the 1-yard line, concluding the Aggies’ 27-20 overtime victory right then and there. Of course, there would be no tidy conclusion to this game, which was filled with enough blunders on both sides to last a whole season.
Only after Kerwynn Williams’ routine touchdown run and some controversy on Utah’s overtime possession could USU celebrate Friday night at Romney Stadium.
“Amazing job by a tough-minded group of kids,” said USU coach Gary Andersen, whose team surely deserved to win.
Remember that statement, amid the inevitable discussion of Utah’s troubles.
It has to be said that the Aggies’ breakthrough required considerable cooperation from the Utes, whose season is in as much of a shambles as any good team’s could be after two weeks. There’s not enough room in this entire sports section to detail all of Utah’s mistakes, shortcomings and failings Friday.
Conveniently, coach Kyle Whittingham provided the necessary summary when Geoff Norwood returned to the sideline after fielding a punt inside his 5-yard line.
“What are you doing?” Whittingham screamed.
For the Utes, the coming week in advance of the BYU game will be filled with similar questions about coaching, discipline and the state of their quarterbacking, following Jordan Wynn’s third annual shoulder injury.
All of that stuff can wait. This moment belongs to the Aggies.
Just when the story was becoming how USU lost another fourth-quarter lead, as happened repeatedly last season, Keeton delivered. His offense had converted only one of 12 third-down plays before he dropped back on third-and-9 from the Ute 24 in overtime.
Suddenly, shockingly, there was only green turf in front of him. The Ute defenders covered the USU receivers “to the fullest,” Keeton said, “but they didn’t cover me. I’m thankful for that.”
And eventually, the Aggies completed their first victory over Utah in 15 years. Judging by the quality of opponent, this is USU’s biggest win since knocking off a Steve Young-quarterbacked BYU team in 1982.
The circumstances almost could elevate this one over that one. Utah is in the Pac-12 now. And considering how the Utes hammered the Aggies by a combined 154-16 in their last three visits to Logan (2004, ’06 and ’08), the notion of USU’s becoming merely competitive again seemed like a stretch.
I’m wrong, I know that. I’ve been saying for years that the in-state series had lost significance. Turns out, the two-year break enabled Andersen to bridge that gigantic gulf.
When he took the job in December 2008, “We talked about how to make these games rivalries,” Andersen said.
So now, he claims a 2010 win over BYU and an upset of Utah — plus a memorable near-miss against BYU last September. In the end Friday, after an offensive pass-interference penalty nullified Utah’s tying touchdown, USU defensive back Will Davis covered Ute receiver DeVonte Christopher on the final fourth-and-17 play.
Christopher wanted a penalty flag, but none came. Davis, who tipped the ball that a BYU receiver caught for a touchdown last year, was vindicated. So were Andersen and everybody associated with his program.
The Utes helped, but the Aggies did their part too. Don’t forget that.