Aggies come up huge in clutch, break 4-game skid with win over Air Force – Cache Valley Daily

Photo by Clint Allen

LOGAN – For two straight games, Utah State put together a solid quarter here, a good half there, but never put forward a complete game of winning football. Finally, when it began to matter most, the Aggies made winning plays in its 34-27 homecoming victory over Air Force. The victory snapped a four-game losing streak.

“If a team needed a win worse than that group, I don’t what team it is,” head coach Blake Anderson said. “A month of grinding it out, close but not there, and we finally got it to click.”

Utah State hadn’t won a game since its August victory over UConn in Week 0. Now in Week 6, the reigning Mountain West champion Aggies were in danger of being effectively eliminated from contention for the conference title.

We lose tonight, then it’s like ‘What are we playing for?’” Aggie quarterback Cooper Legas asked. “There’s no real motivation to go get the championship because it feels like if we lose this one then we’re out of the running.”

“You get to a point where we’re fragile,” Anderson said, “this thing could go south real quick if we don’t see some fruit from the labor and the sacrifice.”

Anderson also astutely pointed out: “You can only take getting close so often.”

With hunger for a victory and the knowledge of just how huge this game was, the Aggies came out of the gates hot. They marched 72 yards on their first drive. Running back Calvin Tyler Jr. and quarterback Cooper Legas combined to run for 41 yards on that drive alone, with Legas capping the drive with a 31-yard over-the-shoulder touchdown pass to Brian Cobbs.

After that drive, however, USU’s momentum slowed. The defense allowed two straight long Air Force touchdown drives and the offense stalled in the red zone multiple times and had to settle for field goals. The Aggies’ final drive of the half had a chance to kick a go-ahead field goal with some luck and timely clock management, but that drive ended with a Cooper Legas interception.

The entire first half seemed like a missed opportunity to be up big in what was the biggest game of the year to this point.

“(We) had a couple of mistakes that could have been really, really costly,” Anderson said.

A five-minute drive from Air Force early in the third put the Falcons up 17-13. For the Aggies, anything less than a score on the ensuing drive might put their opponents in full control, especially if another long drive grew that lead and took the game to the fourth quarter. But in this crucial situation, USU not only scored on the one answering drive, it scored on three consecutive drives.

USU went up 20-17 late in the third quarter on the first of those three straight TD drives. Cobbs caught four passes on that drive alone, including ones for 22 and 16 yards. His shortest catch, for just three yards, was the biggest. Facing 4th & 1, the Aggies went for it and Legas threw to Cobbs on a short slant route. The senior receiver reeled in a heavily contested ball and kept the drive going with a conversion.

Unfortunately, this great drive that answered Air Force’s field goal was then answered by the Falcons, who scored a touchdown to go up 24-20. But much like the fondly remembered 2021 Aggies, being down in a clutch situation brought out the best of the 2022 Aggies on this Saturday.

The 10-play, 75-yard drive USU put together was the masterclass of the night. Legas completed 4 of 5 passes for 51 yards while rushing for another nine. Tyler converted two first downs on the ground and had 14 yards of his own. The whole drive, though, culminated on one crucial play. The Aggies were forced into a 4th and 4 on the Air Force 34. It looked just like a speed option play that the Falcons had sniffed out earlier in the game for a five-yard loss, and this play looked destined for a similar (and more disastrous) fate. Only, at the crucial moment, Legas flipped the ball not backward to Tyler, but forward in a shovel pass to Terrell Vaughn. The speedy slot receiver then surged ahead for a 34-yard touchdown

That fourth-down touchdown to Vaughn and the fourth-down conversion by Cobbs earlier were “two of the most critical plays of the night” according to Anderson.

“We don’t win the game without them,” Anderson said. “Couldn’t sit there and punt or take field goals in those opportunities. We needed to score and were able to finish those drives off.”

In what was quickly becoming a back-and-forth game, the burden of winning the game shifted toward whichever defense came up with a big play. And the Aggies were that team. The Falcons were three plays into what looked like another long drive. Jalen Johnson broke free for a 22-yard run, but at the end, USU corner Ajani Carter clubbed the ball free and Andre Grayson recovered the fumble for the Aggies.

The Aggies took full advantage of the Falcons’ first turnover of the game, marching 56 yards in three plays. Legas accounted for 48 of those with a 16-yard run and then a 32-yard touchdown run to give USU its largest lead of the night 34-24.

Air Force once again began a methodical drive down the field, but after nine plays that gained 40 yards, USU again came up big on defense and once again it was Carter making plays. Carter intercepted Haaziq Daniels’ pass over the middle with 3:51 left in the game. From there, the Aggies closed out the game, only allowing a field goal that cut the lead to one touchdown and recovering the desperation onside kick that came with less than two minutes to play.

Utah State’s offense finished with only its third-most productive game in terms of yards (414) but scored a season-high in points largely thanks to fewer turnovers and finishing drives at the right times.

“Consistency’s been a problem for us. We’ve had spurts but not continuous. And tonight there never was a big drop-off,” Anderson said. “This was a big-time college football game and we stayed in the fight for four straight quarters. Sixty straight minutes.”

Three Aggies consistently shined on offense — Legas, Tyler and Cobbs. Legas completed 18-of-23 passes for a career-high 215 yards with and also had a career-high 76 yards rushing. The junior QB accounted for three touchdowns, two through the air and one on the ground. Tyler ran for 115 yards and one touchdown, his second straight 100-yard game and third of the season. Cobbs caught eight passes on the night for a career-high 136 yards and a touchdown. In the last three games, Cobbs has 24 catches for 315 yards and three touchdowns.

That dude’s been a leader since day one,” Anderson said of Cobbs. “He’s been more and more vocal, but mainly he leads by example. He does everything right.”

Utah State, with momentum in hand for the first time in more than a month, will hit the road for two straight weeks, first to Fort Collins for a matchup with Colorado State on Oct. 15 and then to Laramie to face Wyoming on Oct. 22.

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