Ruston, La. • Gary Andersen tried valiantly to check his emotions, but was unsuccessful as the tears started to flow. Choked with emotion, the man who took Utah State football from depression to prominence simply walked away.
It may have been the first time in four years USU’s head coach found himself at a loss for words.
When Andersen took the job, the Aggies were a laughing stock, invisible as a program. As of Saturday night, they are Western Athletic Conference champions, the result of a 48-41 overtime win against Louisiana Tech in front of 25,614 stunned fans at Joe Aillet Stadium.
If Utah State defeats Idaho in Logan next week — very likely — it will have won its first conference title outright since 1936. The WAC championship is the first in school history. The first 10-win season in school history is within reach. There is a decent chance USU finds itself nationally ranked for the first time since 1978.
“Just to see what we’ve been through as a team in the last four years, this is extremely satisfying,” senior running back Kerwynn Williams said. “We’ve had to come through a lot of hard times. This is a great team, and I’m just proud to be here.”
Williams was a part of Andersen’s first recruiting class. After two years, he wasn’t sure where he stood, what role he would play. Against the Bulldogs, he scored the game-winning touchdown, a 4-yard run up the middle where he carried two Louisiana Tech players into the end zone.
For the game, Williams had 162 yards and a pair of scores on 20 attempts. He caught four passes for 125 yards and a touchdown. And he wasn’t even Utah State’s best player.
That honor belongs to sophomore quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who may have played his best game of the season at the most important time. Keeton went 20 of 34 for 340 yards and two touchdowns. He gained 121 yards on the ground and scored twice more.
Those two carried the Aggies offensively, accounting for most of the yardage one way or another.
“We just had to keep scoring, and we knew that,” Andersen said. “It was a tremendous football game, an unbelievable victory. All I know is that everything in between doesn’t matter now.”
The Aggies blew a 41-17 third quarter advantage, as Louisiana Tech scored 24 consecutive points to end regulation behind quarterback Colby Cameron and wide receiver Quinton Patton. But a Utah State defense that played superbly — despite the final score — came up huge when it counted.
Following Williams’ touchdown, USU stopped Louisiana Tech four consecutive times in its portion of overtime. The last play, a Ray Holley run up the middle on fourth down, was thwarted by linebacker Jake Doughty. When it was over, the USU players sprinted to the middle of the field and began hugging one another.
Utah State led 17-3 at halftime, and the lead swelled in the third quarter. But the Bulldogs rallied behind the strength of one of the best offenses in the country.
“It just came down to getting one final stop on defense, and we were able to get it,” Doughty said. “I didn’t want to believe that it was true. But we did it. We’re champions.”
R Utah State wins its first conference title since winning the Big West in 1997.
• Kerwynn Williams scores the game-winner, a 4-yard run.
• The Aggies win nine games for the first time since 1961.