Logan • Two years ago on a late Saturday night, the Utah State football team was down 28-7 at halftime to Hawaii. A number of Aggies fans had already turned their radios and televisions off.
In the moment, it would've been hard to blame them. The Aggies had allowed four unanswered touchdowns in the second quarter at Aloha Stadium, where they hadn't won since 1966. Freshman phenom quarterback Chuckie Keeton had been injured and didn't appear to be coming back.
The late kickoff made it seem like time was dwindling away even faster.
"We didn't have a thing going for us," recalled USU coach Matt Wells, who was then an assistant coach.
Then the unthinkable would happened: The Aggies roared back behind a junior college quarterback, some explosive offensive plays and a defense that held on.
But the 35-31 win at Aloha Stadium would be more than another notch in the win column it would be transformative. The Aggies would go on to win 16 of their next 19 games, effectively turning Utah State from a struggling midmajor to a conference contender.
Ask Aggie veterans to this day, and they point to the Hawaii game as the turning point of the program.
"It was the first time the players realized that they run the program," safety Brian Suite said. "After that, we all just realized that it's the players who make the plays, and the players win games. Guys started taking a lot more responsibility, and it turned us around."
The game itself has already entered Utah State lore. Quarterback Adam Kennedy came in and woke up a sleepy Utah State fan base by throwing 37- and 71-yard touchdown passes. Robert Turbin rumbled for a 48-yard touchdown early in the second half, then came back to clinch the game, punching a run into the end zone.
The dazzling plays that changed the game and the program may never have happened if the Aggies hadn't gone into halftime down big. The way many current players remember it, the coaching staff challenged them to be accountable for their season.
"There were a few things said in the locker room that made us play harder," corner Nevin Lawson said. "When Chuckie went down, that was emotional for me. It just felt like us against the world at the time."
Utah State proved itself to be a world-beater not only in that contest, but also as the season continued. Winning became a habit for the Aggies, even if it was in somewhat less-than-convincing fashion.
They knocked out San Jose State by a point. It took two thrilling overtimes to beat Idaho in a shootout. The Aggies managed to run the clock out on a tough Nevada team.
It was validating for Utah State's coaching staff, which had been fighting for success for years. Even if their hearts skipped a beat now and then.
"It was like we were cardiac kids that year," Wells said. "It's not like we just went on a five-game run and drilled everybody. We were throwing balls into the end zone to win games."
This weekend's reunion of Hawaii and Utah State finds the programs on different ends of the spectrum than they were last time. The Rainbow Warriors have been in a tailspin, losing three of their last four to end 2011. In the last two seasons, Hawaii has managed three total wins, with zero so far this year.
Whatever bit of inspiration Utah State took out of that game in 2011 is fading as players graduate and the memories are left to the record books. But the Aggies, still in the hunt for a bowl bid for the third straight year, may find new inspiration on Saturday afternoon.
Hawaii at Utah State
O At Romney Stadium (Logan)
Kickoff • 2 p.m.
TV • CBS Sports Network
Radio • 1280 AM
Records • Utah State (4-4, 3-1); Hawaii (0-7, 0-5)
Series history • Tied 6-6
Last meeting • Nov. 5, 2011 at Hawaii; USU 35, Hawaii 31
Hawaii delayed by LAX shooting
The Hawaii football team, scheduled to play a Saturday afternoon game at Utah State, has been delayed by the shooting in the Los Angeles International Airport.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that the Rainbow Warriors' scheduled charter flight at 1 p.m. MST was re-routed elsewhere after the airport was locked down because of the shooting. They apparently were going to fly into Salt Lake City late Friday night, then bus to Logan, arriving early Saturday morning.
Officials from both schools and the Mountain West Conference are attempting to get the 2 p.m. kickoff moved back, but the game's television broadcaster the CBS Sports Network may not allow it.
The Warriors (0-7) flew to Los Angeles on Thursday night, starting a 10-day trip that will take them from Utah this week to Maryland next week to face Navy.