After writing the last blog entry announcing Utah State’s participation in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, I decided to jot down some of my thoughts (there are many) on this incredible season.
Let’s start off by saying that I never thought that I would write articles on Utah State Football on this website. The site was created to host Aggie basketball content, specifically statistics. I am a die-hard Aggie basketball fan, and have been attending games since I can remember. My grandfather would give me the gift of season basketball tickets every year for my combined birthday / Christmas present. Entering the confines of the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum has always been, and always will be somewhat of a spiritual experience for me. I can’t think of anywhere on earth I would rather be than the Spectrum.
I’ve always enjoyed attending games in Romney Stadium, but I was always just a casual Aggie football fan. I enjoyed the football game atmosphere, the marching band, the beautiful landscapes around Romney, and cheering for the Aggie Blue and Fighting White. If the Aggies pulled off a victory, I would leave happy. If not, I would still leave happy and satisfied for the good entertainment. Perhaps, due to the many years of Aggie football struggles I had conditioned myself to be this way. Perhaps I was just more of a basketball fan to begin with… Perhaps the atmospheres between the two venues caused these sentiments… Whatever it was, I was never a die-hard Aggie football fan.
This year that all changed.
Utah State vs. Auburn
On somewhat of a whim I decided to make the trip to Utah State’s opening game of the season in Alabama against Auburn University. I found a cheap flight and decided I could stay with some in-laws in Atlanta (driving distance to Auburn) and it would be an enjoyable trip. I could also take the opportunity to attend an Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Falcons game all in the same weekend! The Aggie football game would be icing on the cake. Besides, how often would I get to see the Aggies play the defending national champions?
What I experienced at Auburn was absolutely unreal. The Auburn game day experience was incredible. The fans were ridiculously classy, educated, and hospitable. The stadium was enormous and packed to the brim. The national championship trophy was presented on the field and the eagle flight before kickoff was breathtaking.
About 30 minutes before kickoff I received a text message stating that 18-year-old true freshman Chuckie Keeton would be starting for the Aggies. I was excited to see what Chuckie could do, but I couldn’t have been prepared for what happened next.
The Aggies came out swinging. Chuckie played well beyond his years. He was composed. Poised. He looked like a senior out there. He led the Aggies to an early lead, and they never let up. I’ve never been so proud of an Aggie football team as I was that day. They played a nearly flawless game that day. The Utah State Aggies were shocking the world. They were on the front page of all of the online sports websites. The stadium full of over 80,000 people was relatively quiet. Shocked silence…
With a few minutes left in the fourth quarter the Aggies scored their final touchdown taking a commanding 38-28 lead with only 3:38 left in the game. Dejected Auburn fans were streaming out of the stadium to beat the traffic. We all know what happened next… The 65 yard drive for a touchdown. The perfectly executed on-side kick. The second touchdown in just over 2 minutes to end the game.
It was devastating, but at the same time I was so proud of our team. I felt terrible that they had lost, but extremely proud of the effort that they left on the field.
Utah State vs. Weber State
In the next game the Aggies came out and took it to Weber State winning 54-17. Things were looking up this season. Was it possible that we could finally go bowling? It was sure looking that way.
More Tough Losses
The next couple of games were very tough to swallow. Colorado State came to town. After leading for most of the game Utah State came up with a few crucial mistakes late in the fourth quarter to keep CSU alive. Fumbles, muffed punts, poor play calling… It wasn’t looking good. Despite all this the Aggies had a shot to win the game in the second overtime. After scoring a touchdown Gary Andersen decided to attempt a two-point conversion to win the game. Robert Turbin was given the ball but couldn’t quite turn the corner and came up a couple of yards short. The Aggies lost 35-34.
Next up was BYU and a perfect chance for redemption from two extremely tough losses. Unfortunately this was the same old story. Utah State lead for most of the way only to lose late in the fourth quarter on two miracle pass completions from none other than Benedict Arnold himself (Riley Nelson, who started his career as an Aggie before defecting to BYU while serving a mission). Could it get any worse?
The Aggies rebounded to absolutely crush Wyoming 63-19 in Romney Stadium, but then went back to their losing ways, squandering fourth quarter leads at Fresno State and at home against Louisiana Tech. The Aggies had led going into the fourth quarter of every single game they had played in and were sitting at 2-5.
Give up yet?
Many Aggie fans gave up on the team. They said that it was the same old story. This team didn’t know how to win. Part of me was conditioned to believe them, but I just kept telling myself that this team was different. This team could easily be undefeated at this point in the season! How long would we have to keep saying that this team could be here, or should be there…. If I felt this bad, imagine how hard it was on the players.
Rock Bottom & The Rebound
Then the team flew out to Hawaii. After taking an early 7-0 lead things went from good, to bad, to unthinkable.
After going down 21-7 in the second quarter, Chuckie Keeton started to show signs of life scrambling for yardage on a couple of crucial plays. With a little over 2 minutes left in the half and the Aggies threatening the season hit rock bottom. Facing a 3rd-and-9 Chuckie Keeton scrambled for 14 yards and an apparent first down only to fumble the ball. As Hawaii celebrated and headed to the sidelines the dejected Aggie offense once again headed off the field. Everyone except Chuckie Keeton. He remained motionless on the field. The trainers ran out onto the field to check on Chuckie and he continued to lie motionless. The horror continued for several minutes and both teams came out onto the field hoping that Chuckie would be ok. As Chuckie was carted off the field on a stretcher all of the hopes and dreams of Aggie football were suddenly shattered in the harsh realization that this young man’s life may be forever changed.
The twitter-scapes were lighting up with #PrayForChuckie as Aggie fans everywhere hoped for the best, while fearing the worst. Hawaii ended the second quarter with another touchdown and took a 28-7 lead into halftime.
As the second half started I kept thinking to myself “How can you rebound from what just happened?” I saw no possible way that the team could continue to play with any sort of passion with what was at stake with Chuckie’s injury. Adam Kennedy was the new quarterback and somehow he came out ready to play. On Utah State’s first play of the second half Kennedy completed a 25 yard pass to Matt Austin. On the next play Kennedy scrambled for 6 yards. One play later Robert Turbin scampered 48 yards for a touchdown pumping life into the Aggie football veins.
Suddenly on Twitter the #PrayForChuckie hashtags were being followed by #PlayForChuckie. Kennedy continued to impress, completing pass after pass, and coming up with big plays scrambling for yardage with his legs to the chagrin of a bewildered Hawaii defense. On the other side of the ball the Aggie defense played with heart holding a potent Hawaii offense to single field goal in the entire second half. The result was a season changing, come-from-behind victory. The Aggie hopes for a bowl were still alive! But just barely…
After the Hawaii victory I stayed up late hoping to hear more information on Chuckie Keeton. I was happy with the amazing win, but still devastated at the memory of Chuckie being carted off the field motionless. At about 3 a.m. news broke that Chuckie had movement in all of his extremities and would be flying home the next day. Things were looking up.
A Pattern Develops
Next up was San Jose State at home. After falling behind again, the Aggies pulled off another victory in the waning moments. This time Kennedy hit Matt Austin for a 21 yard touchdown with less than a minute remaining to cap off a 34-33 victory for Utah State. The Aggies had another huge second half performance outscoring the Spartans 27-14.
It was more of the same the next week in Moscow, Idaho against the Idaho Vandals. Reminiscent of the Utah State @ Idaho shootout from 2009, this game was close throughout and ended up in double overtime. After reviewing a couple controversial plays, both of which could have won the game for the Aggies, Utah State finally made the play that sealed the victory. With the Vandals threatening to tie or take the lead in double overtime, Utah State’s star linebacker Bobby Wagner came up with a game winning interception. The Aggies had won three straight games. Something they hadn’t done in ten years.
The team who didn’t know how to win now didn’t know how to lose.
At 5-5 the Aggies needed just one more victory to become bowl eligible. Their next opponent was the Nevada Wolfpack. Nevada, the reigning WAC champs, came into the game ranked second in the WAC, nipping at Louisiana Tech’s heels.
The pattern from the last three games continued with the Aggies falling behind at the half, and crawling back in the second half for the victory. Only this time the Aggies entered the fourth quarter with the lead. Would they revert back to their old ways of giving up fourth quarter leads, or would they finally be able to close out a game after leading going into the 4th?
The Utah State defense came up huge in the fourth quarter causing a late-game Nevada turnover with the Wolfpack threatening to score in the red zone. Gary Andersen made a gutsy call to go for it on 4th down and 1 with 1:41 remaining in the game. The ball once again went into the hands of Robert Turbin who picked up 4 yards. The nail-in-the-coffin came when Adam Kennedy rushed for a 12 yard gain on 3rd-and-10 with 1:00 remaining in the game. And the rest is history.
With all the ups and downs this season, this team has finally achieved their goal. Regardless of what happens in the last regular season game at New Mexico State, the Utah State Aggies are going bowling! While I am very proud of what this team has achieved to this point, I’ve got a feeling they’re not quite done yet. But whatever happens, this is the year that some of the passion that I have for Utah State basketball spread over to the gridiron.