LOGAN -- The Utah State football program is turning back the clock -- all while doing it in style.
A double-pass for a touchdown from quarterback Adam Kennedy to star running back Robert Turbin via Stanley Morrison late in the third quarter proved to be the difference in the Aggies' 21-17 win over Nevada on Saturday afternoon in Romney Stadium -- a victory that puts Utah State in position to reach a bowl game for the first time since 1997, when the Aggies met Cincinnati in the Humanitarian Bowl. A victory next weekend at New Mexico State would give the Aggies (6-5, 4-2 WAC) their first seven-win season since 1993, when they defeated Ball State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
"Well, it's a great day to be an Aggie, that's all I can tell you," said USU third-year head coach Gary Andersen. "Unbelievable. You reflect on so many things, why you drive up the hill and take this job. Then to see the kids have those emotions, to have a crowd like that late in the year, to have a game this late in the year that means so much ... it's almost surreal. I know this means a lot to all the alums, to all the people in Cache Valley. It's what we came here to do."
Indeed, the 15,784 fans at the stadium saw a Christmas morning-like celebration on the field immediately after the contest -- but only after a large helping of nail-biting fourth-quarter moments.
Following the trick play, Nevada quarterback Tyler Lantrip -- who entered the game late in the third quarter after starting signal-caller Cody Fajardo left with an injury -- drove the Wolfpack (6-5, 4-2 WAC) 61 yards in 10 plays, setting up a fourth-and-one situation at the USU 12. But as Lantrip tried to squeeze to the 11, senior defensive end Quinn Garner popped the ball loose and fellow senior Bobby Wagner pounced on it, certainly the biggest play among the 15 tackles the linebacker registered during the contest.
"I felt like they were kinda running away from me the whole game, so I had to fold back fast once I saw the ball," Wagner said. "We just like keeping everybody on their seats."
"Tremendous play," Andersen added. "Players make plays, players win games. When you get in those situations, you hope to be able to make plays. In this case, all we needed was one."
Minutes later, Turbin and Kennedy added one more for good measure.
Facing fourth-and-inches from their own 45 with 1:41 left, Kennedy took a snap out of the shotgun and gave the ball to a plunging Turbin for a four-yard gain.
"Everybody is looking at you as the football coach in those situations," said Andersen, before adding that the offensive lineman approached him in that moment asking him to go for it.
"It's those times where you look in the mirror and say, 'now what?' if it doesn't work out," he said. "It did this time. Once (the line) told me what they wanted to do, it was decided."
Two downs later, facing third-and-10 with one minute to play, Kennedy rushed 12 yards on a keeper, hammering the nail in the Nevada coffin and ensuring the post-game celebration.
"I wish everyone could have been out there in the locker room (after the game)," Kennedy said. "That was the best football experience of my life. It was just raw emotion. (The first-down run) was so huge, I had to take it, but I didn't want to be THAT guy that fumbled. Luckily, my lengthy body stretched it out."
It was a satisfying finish for Utah State's single-season rushing touchdown, total touchdown and scoring record-holder, who said that he can feel more satisfied due to seeing his goals for the program "finally" be fulfilled, despite the fact that Louisiana Tech is this season's WAC champion after defeating New Mexico State 44-0.
"I have thought about next year, but at the same time, my next focus is New Mexico State," Turbin said about a team that was out-gained by 127 yards and had the ball nearly nine minutes less than the Wolfpack. "The number one thing I wanted to do when I came here wasn't to break records or be the rushing champion or anything like that. It was to flip the program, to go from 2-10 to 10-2, to go to a bowl game for the first time in years. I didn't want to go to a Washington or an Oregon because they've already won. I wanted to come and create something, to build something."
The Aggies complete their regular season in Las Cruces Saturday at 1:30 p.m.