Logan • In a successful effort to draw 6,000 students to Maverik Stadium and keep them there until the fourth quarter Saturday night, Utah State administrators awarded a dozen $500 prizes.
The strategy worked, as the lure of money managed to maintain their interest in the game. Unfortunately for the Aggies, so did Air Force's comeback.
In the end, though, Gerold Bright's 70-yard touchdown run helped USU secure a 42-32 victory in a late-night Mountain West opener in front of 22,700 fans at Maverik Stadium.
The Aggies (3-1) needed this win to justify their hopes of winning a division title and to keep themselves from stewing during a bye week in advance of an Oct. 5 game at BYU.
USU had dropped three straight games to the Falcons, finding a frustrating to way lose in each case. Last November in Colorado Springs, USU missed a chance to clinch a winning record in the regular-season finale, allowing Air Force to drive for a go-ahead score and then failing to complete a promising drive in response.
This time, USU quarterback Jordan Love’s 356-yard passing night was enough to deliver a win – with help from Bright and the Aggie defense, which showed toughness at key moments while being on the field for 107 plays.
Love was confident his offense could move the ball against Air Force, leaving one big variable in play: “We just have to finish the game in the fourth quarter,” he said in a Monday news conference, “unlike last year.”
As this game unfolded, it seemed unlikely that Love and the Aggies would have to agonize in the fourth quarter. But they sure did, after losing almost all of a 21-point lead in about 10 minutes.
The Aggies steadied themselves just enough. After Bright’s run, USU defensive lineman Adewale Adeoye stuffed Air Force quarterback Isaiah Sanders on a fourth-and-1 play at the Aggie 16-yard line with 2:10 remaining.
After USU ran the ball three times, Taylor Hintze produced a 67-yard punt to the AFA 13. The Falcons then turned the ball over on downs.
Wearing specially made Aggie jerseys, Jazz players Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale and Georges Niang stood on the USU sideline during the first half, and the home team came through for them at the end of the half.
And then started playing even better without those guys watching – building a 35-14 lead, only to have Air Force rally.
The Falcons got within 35-32 and drove to midfield in the fourth quarter, before having to punt. And then Bright broke loose through the right side and ran down the sideline to the end zone, preventing the Aggies from having to explain what happened against Air Force this time.
The Aggies missed an opportunity to take control of Saturday’s game in the first quarter, but they rode a big swing of momentum to take a 21-14 halftime lead.
Love completed 12 of his first 14 passes, leading one touchdown drive and moving USU toward another score. But wide-open receiver Savon Scarver dropped what would have become a 51-yard TD pass, and the Aggies lost steam.
Air Force responded with touchdowns on consecutive possessions, before Love heated up again and moved USU into position for Bright’s 4-yard touchdown run to make it 14-14.
Then came a wild sequence near the end of the half. Love was sacked and fumbled, with AFA’s Garrett Kauppila recovering the ball at the USU 26-yard line. A holding penalty moved the Falcons back, though, and USU’s Tipa Galeai blocked a field goal attempt.
The Aggies moved quickly down the field and Love hit receiver Aaren Vaughns down the middle for a 43-yard touchdown with 1:02 left in the half.
Love went right back to work on the Aggies' first drive of the second half. His passing moved USU to the 1-yard line, then Darwin Thompson ran for a touchdown and a 28-14 lead.
Less than a minute later, it was 35-14. USU safety Gaje Ferguson’s fumble recovery led to Love’s 30-yard TD pass to tight end Dax Raymond on the next play, a well designed middle screen.
But anyone who figured the game was over at that stage was forgetting what happened last season. This episode was more extreme. The Falcons responded with a field goal, a touchdown drive (plus a 2-point conversion) and a score on a kickoff, as Scarver was stood up and stripped of the ball and Air Force's Christopher Musselman returned it 21 yards for a touchdown, making it 35-32 with 13:00 remaining.
Meanwhile , an Aggie offense that already had topped 300 passing yards stalled with two three-and-out sequences, thanks to a penalty and a couple of drops.
But USU responded in the end.