Larsen, Legas pace Aggies as they hold off Hawai’i on the road – Cache Valley Daily

Utah State safety Ike Larsen (19) makes an interception over Hawaii wide receiver Koali Nishigaya (27) during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

HONOLULU – Utah State set a new season-high in points and needed nearly every one of them to hold off Hawai’i on the road 41-34 to remain in the hunt for bowl eligibility.

Cooper Legas set a career-high in passing yards, completing 16-of-25 passes for 238 yards and three touchdown passes. Calvin Tyler Jr. also recorded his fifth 100-yard rushing game of the year with 113 yards and a rushing touchdown. Tyler was also productive catching the ball out of the backfield, reeling in three passes for 50 yards and another touchdown.

On the defensive side of the ball, freshman safety Ike Larsen intercepted two passes – returning one to the house – for his third and fourth interceptions of the year.

Every week he gets better. He’s got a phenomenal career ahead of him. Love that he’s wearing our colors,” Anderson said. “He always seems to be calm in the moment, when it’s most critical.”

Despite the great performances by several Aggies, the team didn’t make this game easy or comfortable. USU started off hot with a two-play touchdown drive to go up 7-0 but didn’t keep that momentum, even with plenty of chances. Late in the first quarter, Hawai’i muffed a punt which was recovered for Utah State by Jamie Nance on the seven-yard line. However, that spectacular field position only yielded a field goal for a 10-0 lead that held through the end of the first quarter.

Utah State were able to start another drive deep in Hawai’i territory off the first of Larsen’s to picks. The Aggies started on the 27-yard line. However, that drive failed to result in any points. Connor Coles’ eventual 39-yard field goal attempt was blocked by the Warriors.

The offense certainly wasn’t inept, compiling three touchdown drives of 60-plus yards in the first half alone. Legas had 212 of his passing yards in the first half, nearly breaking his previous career-best of 215 in just two quarters. All three of Legas’ TD passes came in the first half as well, two of those to tight ends. Josh Sterzer caught a 68-yard TD on the first scoring drive and Broc Lane reeled in a 16-yarder early in the second quarter, those two touchdowns being the first on the season for both tight ends.

“Been wanting to get them more and more involved all year,” Anderson said. “Had some things designed, truly, to get them involved. Just haven’t hit them, but tonight we did and we hit them when we needed to. Both those guys getting in the end zone, was just a great payoff for how hard they work and how hard they block, how unselfish they are. It was huge. I do believe it will only benefit our offense to spread the ball around to more and more people and make us more difficult to defend. We’d like to see that continue. That’s a trend we need to continue.”

That success only highlighted some of the shortcomings, getting three points on two turnovers in plus field position along with a curious decision on what would be Utah State’s final drive of the first half. The Aggies got the ball on their own 40-yard line with 57 seconds left and two time outs. With just 25 yards, they’d be within the maximum field goal range of Coles (based on his career-high of 52 yards). However, with the wind going against them USU went conservative. The first play was a shovel pass to Robert Briggs that went for a loss (-2 yards) and then a four-yard Briggs run that drained the rest of the clock out.

“We were hoping we could pop a play real quick,” Anderson said. “But the wind changed a little bit on us, we were getting the ball back in the third quarter. Absolutely did not want them to get the ball back with the wind right there and potentially get a field goal. Had we popped a play and had a productive play we would have gone ahead and used that opportunity. But we busted the very first play and went backwards and at that point just did not want any opportunity that they might go down and get a field goal.”

To start the third, Utah State and Hawai’i traded touchdowns to set the score at 31-24, the Aggies later added a field goal to make it 34-24 entering the fourth quarter. The Warriors made a big push in that fourth quarter to pull within striking distance for a surprise victory, but the Aggies did just barely enough. And the biggest play that allowed USU to hold off its opponents was Larsen’s second interception.

Hawai’i quarterback Brayden Schager dropped back, looked and threw left for his receiver, Koali Nishigaya, but Larsen jumped the 10-yard out route and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown that became the lone difference in the final score.

“That’s just a game plan deal,” Larsen said of the interception. “We read the receiver splits all week and when the time came we saw the split. I’d seen it, I jumped the route so it was all game-plan stuff right there.”

That interception appeared to ice the game with the Aggies holding a three-score lead and only 3:33 left to play, but Hawai’i persisted and were rewarded for its efforts. Tylan Hines broke off 69-yard touchdown run to quickly put the Warriors back in business. A backwards drive by USU on its next possession – a one-yard run, 11-yard sack and two-yard run for a three-and-out – gave Hawai’i the ball back down 10 with 3:05 to play.

With no timeouts, Hawai’i was very much working against the clock, but got the ball all the way to the three-yard line. With 18 seconds left in the game, the Warriors opted for a field goal to cut the lead to seven points and go for the onside kick. The kick initially bounced off the hands of Quinton Hadnot, but he tracked the ball down and recovered the ball to effectively end the game.

“We didn’t play our best, we obviously made a lot of mistakes that didn’t allow us to really put this game away like we’d like,” Anderson said. “Give (Hawai’i) credit, too. Their offense is starting to click. They know what they’re doing, and defensively they made us struggle at times especially in the third and fourth quarter where we really need to go down and drive and put it away. They just wouldn’t go away.”

Utah State is now .500 on the year for the first time in nine weeks, with a 5-5 overall record. The Aggies will have two shots to achieve bowl eligibility with the first chance coming next week on senior night as the team hosts San Jose State. That game will kick off at 7:45 p.m. on Merlin Olsen Field.

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