LOGAN -- It lost four starters, including Heisman Trophy candidate Chuckie Keeton, in just two weeks. It was supported by a crowd that filled no more than three-quarters of Romney Stadium.
Still, Utah State football is Mountain West Conference Mountain Division champions after its 35-7 victory over Wyoming on Saturday afternoon.
The Aggies (8-4, 7-1) are headed to the MW Championship Game. The tilt will be held Saturday at 8 p.m. at Fresno State's Bulldog Stadium assuming FSU remains ahead of USU in the Bowl Championship Series standings, released Sunday.
The Aggies won their fifth straight contest after losing on Oct. 12 to Boise State. That followed the loss of Keeton on Oct. 4 against BYU. All four offensive starters were lost in those two contests.
"It's been a long road but a short road since the Boise game," coach Matt Wells said. "Our players put the blinders on from the outside. I couldn't have written a better script."
Joey DeMartino led USU with 112 yards rushing, becoming the 17th Aggie to exceed 1,000 yards for the season.
"The kid just oozes guts," Wells said. "He isn't pretty, but he got one of the game balls."
Wells tied Tony Knap for the most wins in school history by a first-year head coach.
"I'll think about that after I'm retired," Wells said. "(Coaches) put (players) in the place schematically to be successful, but players make plays."
Perhaps most of those plays came from the USU defense. The Cowboys (5-7, 3-5 MW) entered Logan averaging 498.65 yards per game, 13th-highest in the Football Bowl Subdivision. But Saturday, Wyoming was limited to just 190 yards. Quarterback Brett Smith, who last week became Wyoming's all-time leader in total offense, led a passing attack that ranked 21st in the nation in passing offense (293.4 ypg). But he went 16-29 for 162 yards.
"The defense was exceptional," Wells said of the seventh-best scoring defense in the nation. "Bottom line, it's the best defense in the Mountain West Conference."
Cornerback Tay Glover-Wright led with 11 tackles, 2.5 for loss. Freshman linebacker Nick Vigil registered 3.5 sacks in place of Tavaris McMillian and Terrell Thompson, both whom have started this season.
"How good are the guys in front of me, opening it up for me?" Vigil said in reference to starting linebackers Kyler Fackrell, Jake Doughty and brother Zach Vigil. "We played how we are ranked."
Vigil's last sack of Smith came with 3:15 left in the third quarter, the Aggies leading 28-0 and Wyoming facing 4th-and-9 at the USU 23-yard line. Through three quarters, the Pokes gained just 120 yards as the Aggies extended their shutout streak to seven quarters.
Wyoming's offense finally broke through with 13:38 left in the final stanza, with a 60-yard pass from Smith to Dominic Rufran. The Cowboys had a glimpse of hope just minutes later, when a 41-yard fumble return gave Wyoming possession at the USU 6-yard line. But it stalled after Smith was sacked for a 12-yard loss.
The Aggies improved to 7-1 this season after leading at halftime. They led 21-0 at intermission following a diving catch from freshman tight end Wyatt Houston, a 64-yard punt return from JoJo Natson and a one-yard plunge from DeMartino.
Playing without leading receiver Travis Reynolds, Travis Van Leeuwen and Bruce Natson each had six receptions from freshman quarterback Darell Garretson (20 of 29, 156 yards, three touchdowns). Garretson has won the most consecutive games ever to start a USU career (five), lifting the Aggies to their 10th straight win in November.
Saturday's contest marked the first time since 1961 that the Cowboys and Aggies met as conference opponents. The last game was in the Skyline Conference. It also marked the inaugural contest of the Bridger's Battle, meant to honor legendary mountain man Jim Bridger.
At game's end, a banner commemorating the division title was unveiled from the northwest corner of the Jim Laub Athletics Complex as players hoisted identical signs.
"We won half a championship," Wells said in reference to the title game. "I want (athletic director) Scott (Barnes) to buy another one."
A public announcement indicated that USU was headed to its third consecutive bowl game, its first such streak in school history. The game is yet to be determined.
Twenty-two seniors were honored before the game. The class reached 30 wins, four higher than the classes of 1962 and 2012.
Announced attendance was 21,325, but the northwest and south sections of the stadium were mostly vacant and the student section was around half full on the holiday weekend. Wells said he was impressed with the crowd, which filled the chaired west side.
"With the holiday weekend, it was great," Wells said. "I thought the attendance from Aggie Nation was great all year long."
Utah State 35,
At Romney Stadium
Wyoming 0 0 0 7-- 7
Utah St. 7 14 14 0--35
USU--Houston 6 pass from Garretson (Diaz kick), 6:17.
USU--Natson 64 punt return (Diaz kick), 7:30.
USU--DeMartino 1 run (Diaz kick), :53.
USU--Natson 6 pass from Garretson (Diaz kick), 6:00.
USU--Swindall 6 pass from Garretson (Diaz kick), :25.
Wyoming--Rufran 60 pass from B.Smith (Williams kick), 13:38.
First downs 10 20
Rushes-yards 29-28 45-154
Passing 162 156
Comp-Att-Int 16-29-1 20-30-1
Return Yards 7 93
Punts-Avg. 9-41.9 6-43.3
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 1-1
Penalties-Yards 7-71 5-55
Time of Possession 26:02 33:58
Rushing--Wyoming, Wick 12-40, Miller 4-4, Easton 2-2, B.Smith 10-(minus 6), Stratton 1-(minus 12). Utah State, DeMartino 20-112, Marshall 10-46, Garretson 7-12, Butler 1-4, K.Williams 1-(minus 2), Team 3-(minus 6), Natson 3-(minus 12).
Passing--Wyoming, B.Smith 16-29-1-162. Utah State, Garretson 20-29-1-156, Natson 0-1-0-0.
Receiving--Wyoming, Claiborne 5-41, Rufran 4-92, Herron 4-8, Wick 2-21, Miller 1-0. Utah State, Van Leeuwen 6-45, Natson 6-14, Swindall 2-32, Andersen 1-21, DeMartino 1-21, Butler 1-11, Houston 1-6, S.Johnson 1-5, K.Williams 1-1.