VICTORIOUS! Utah State defeats Toledo 41-15 to win first bowl game since 1993

<div id=”author”><strong>BOISE—</strong> Nearly one year to the day after suffering a heartbreaking loss in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the Utah State Aggies took care of business in the fourth quarter as they pulled away from Toledo for a 41-15 win.</div>

“Well the feeling right now is completely different. You play in bowls to win championships, that’s what you do,” USU head coach Gary Andersen said. “This championship we won tonight will be up in our locker room and our facility forever.”

The Aggies squandered a fourth quarter lead to Ohio with just seconds left in the game last year. Leading 13-6 over Toledo with nine minutes remaining, Utah State appeared to be in trouble again when senior running back Kerwynn Williams fumbled the ball and Toledo recovered.

The Rockets tacked on a field goal to pull within four points, but that is as close as they would get. Williams atoned for his fumble as he scored the first of his three fourth-quarter touchdowns two plays later on a 63-yard scamper.

Williams – who was named the MVP – finished with 235 yards rushing, 34 yards receiving, and three touchdowns. Of those 235 yards, 191 came in the fourth quarter when he had runs of 63, 56, 32, and 25 yards. Williams also became the Western Athletic Conference’s leader for all-purpose yards, as he only needed 32 coming into the game.

“After that fumble happened, I was just more determined to get it going. I wanted to do something big to helpt the team out,” Williams said. “I just have to thank my teammates for standing behind me and creating opportunities for me to do that.”

The Rockets (9-4, 6-2) struck first as they took the opening kickoff and drove 49 yards before settling for a field goal. Settling in the red zone is something Toledo would become very familiar with as the Aggies’ top 10 red zone defense lived up to its billing. The Rockets made it into the red zone five times against the USU defense, but failed to score a single touchdown. Three red zone possessions ended in field goals, one in an interception, and one with a turnover on downs.

“We always have the will to stop a touchdown, our coaching staff pushes that effort,” said senior linebacker Bojay Filimoeatu who finished with a game-high 11 tackles and a sack. “Even at practice, we stop our scout team in the red zone. We just get hungry to win.”

The two turnovers in the red zone were critical.

After taking a 10-6 lead into the half, Utah State opened the second half with the ball and added a field goal to push it’s lead to seven. Toledo, however, appeared primed to get that field goal back or even tie the game up as the Rockets took their first possession of the second half down to the Aggies 15 yard line.

Junior linebacker Jake Doughty and freshman linebacker Kyler Fackrell ended that scoring threat though, as Doughty tipped a pass by Austin Dantin on first down, and Fackrell corralled the ball and returned it 14 yards. USU was unable to turn the turnover into points, but the Aggies did grab the momentum.

The next USU red zone stop was equally important. Still trailing 13-7 early in the fourth quarter, Toledo had a first down and 10 at the Aggies 18 yard line. A short pass by Terrance Owens (who replaced Dantin after the pick) to David Pasquale on third down set up a fourth and less than one for the Rockets. Owens kept the ball up the middle on the play and was stuffed by AJ Pataiali’i and the rest of the Aggie defense to give the ball back to the Aggies.

Prior to Williams’ dominance over the final minutes of the game, it was sophomore quarterback Chuckie Keeton leading the Aggie offense. Keeton finished the game with 321 yards of total offense (229 passing, 92 rushing), and scored the Aggies’ only touchdown of the first three quarters with a nifty 62 yard keeper that put USU on top for good.

With his performance, Keeton also became the Utah State leader for completions in a season (275) and passing yards in a season (3373).

Nick Diaz was also perfect kicking on the day, as the sophomore added two field goals of 27 and 44 yards. Diaz also had a chance at a 48-yard attempt, but the Aggies elected to fake the field goal and were stopped short.

Sophomore running back Joe Hill finished off the scoring for USU as he scampered in from 24 yards out with 1:42 remaining in the game. Hill’s score came after Toledo had returned a kickoff 87 yards on then recovered the onsides kick. The Rockets threw an incomplete pass on fourth and two though, giving the ball back to the Aggies.

The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl is the first bowl win for Utah State since defeating Ball State in the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl. It is also only the Aggies second bowl win in school history. USU is now 2-6 in bowl games. Toledo played the entire game without starting linebacker Dan Molls – the nations leading tackler – who was injured on the opening kickoff. Leading running back David Fluellen was also injured early in the game and did not return.

“This was a tremendous football game. The second half was off the charts for these kids. Once again, they came out bound and determined to do something special and they found a way,” Andersen said. “Toledo is a very good team, just like we knew they were going to be coming in. They are tough-minded and kept on fighting. We’re very blessed to be on the winning side today and very happy to be taking this trophy home.”  

<em><strong>@TheRealTO</strong></em>

<em><strong>Photos by Curtis Ripplinger</strong></em>

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