LAS CRUCES, N.M. — For the first time since 1979, Utah State football has seven regular-season wins as the navy Aggies won another thriller with a 24-21 win over New Mexico State Saturday afternoon at NMSU’s Aggie Memorial Stadium.
Junior QB Adam Kennedy hit fellow junior, WR Matt Austin with an 8-yard TD toss with 35 seconds left. After a squib kick on the kickoff, sophomore CB Nevin Lawson intercepted NMSU QB Matt Christian’s pass to seal the visiting Aggies’ win. Lawson’s interception was significant for two-fold, as it was not only the first interception by a defensive back this season, but it was Lawson’s second game-sealing oskie of his career, as he had a pick in the endzone in the waning seconds to seal Utah State’s 38-34 win at San Jose State last year.
The win improves USU to 7-5 overall on the season, the first time that seven wins have been in USU’s win column in a season since 1993, when the seventh victory was the Aggies’ win in the Humanitarian Bowl. It is the first seven-win regular season for Utah State since 1979, and just the 21st time in 113 seasons of football of having at least seven wins.
It was also USU’s fifth Western Athletic Conference win of the season, the Aggies’ most victories in their seven years in the league. It is Utah State’s best conference mark since a 4-1 Big West record in 2000 and first five conference win season for USU since 1993.
Saturday was Utah State’s fifth win in a row overall, including third-straight road win, the first three-game win streak away from home, winning the last two road games of the regular-season and the Las Vegas Bowl. It is the Aggies’ first three-game true road game win streak since 1989. The five-game win streak overall is the most wins in a row since 1993, as 2011 is looking more and more identical to that bowl-winning season, as the 1993 squad won its last five games of the regular-season, and capped its six-game win streak with the Las Vegas Bowl victory.
The win over NMSU Saturday was also Utah State’s ninth game this season decided by one score. The nine games is now the most in the country for one-score games, pulling away from a tie with Kansas State and Miami (Fla.) with eight.
It was Utah State’s fourth win this season with less than a minute or no time on the clock, joining the Aggies’ wins at Hawai’i, at Idaho and home vs. San Jose State. The TD with 35 seconds left ranks No. 10 in USU’s last-minutes game-winning scores since 1991 list. It was also Utah State’s second last-minute win over New Mexico State in that span, as USU beat NMSU, 45-44 in OT in 2002.
Saturday’s win was also the navy Aggies’ first victory on grass this season, after losing its previous two games on grass at Auburn and BYU.
Utah State’s offensive line plowed the way for the visiting Aggies’ rushing attack to amass 392 rushing yards Saturday, as USU rushed for its season-high against a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponent this season, and second-highest of the season behind 440 yards vs. Weber State, and Saturday was USU’s 11th-best rushing output in the program’s history. The 392 rushing yards gives USU 3,330 rushing yards on the season, a new school record, bettering the previous mark of 3,120 set in 1960.
USU ended the day with 515 yards of total offense, as Kennedy was 12-of-16 passing for 123 yards with a season-high three TD’s, his fourth multi-TD passing outing in the just over four-and-a-half games that he has been the main signal-caller for USU.
Senior RB Michael Smith had a career-best outing with 121 yards on 18 carries, while junior RB Robert Turbin had 98 yards on 25 rushes and Kennedy added a career-high 95 yards on 15 carries. Junior RB Kerwynn Williams also had 68 yards rushing.
Austin ended the game with 32 yards receiving on five catches, while senior WR Stanley Morrison had four receptions for 60 yards, extending his WAC-leading receptions streak to 36-straight games.
NMSU, which lost is third-straight game to end the season with a 4-9 overall and 2-6 WAC mark, totalled 397 yards of total offense, as Christian was 17-of-40 passing for 252 yards with one TD and two INT’s. Kenny Turner led NMSU with 65 yards rushing on 13 carries while Taveon Rogers had six catches for 73 yards.
It was a scoreless first quarter, in which USU had two chances inside the NMSU 10, going for it on fourth down both times, but not getting it either time.
The visiting Aggies got on the board early in the second quarter, when Kennedy hit Turbin with a 21-yard TD toss for a 7-0 USU advantage with 8:52 on the second quarter clock. NMSU countered on its next possession, with Christian scrambling for a 16-yard TD run to tie it at 7-all with 6:43 left in the half.
USU took a 14-7 lead after a 6-yard TD pass from Kennedy to Austin with 1:39 to go in the first half. NMSU drove the ball down the field as the first half clock wound down, getting down to the USU 2 with 18 seconds left. But on third-down, senior LB Kyle Gallagher snared an interception, his first INT of not only the season but his career. It was USU’s third INT of the season and all three have been by linebackers as senior LB Wagner has a team-leading two oskies on the year.
Kennedy took a knee to end the half, sending the teams into the locker room with the scoreboard reading 14-7 in USU’s favor.
After a USU fumble at midfield on its opening drive of the third quarter, Christian hit Kemonte’ Bateman with a 51-yard TD pass to tie it at 14-14 with 13:22 remaining in the third stanza.
Sophomore PK Josh Thompson gave USU a 17-14 lead with 9:46 left in the fourth with a 23-yard field goal, capping a 15-yard drive in which the navy Aggies ran every play, eating up 6:21 to go 75 yards. NMSU needed just three plays and 1:08 to march 66 yards, with Turner capping the drive with a 3-yard TD run and the PAT gave NMSU a 21-17 lead with 8:29 left.
After the teams traded punts, USU got the ball on its own 17 with 5:04 on the clock. After nine-straight running plays, the visiting Aggies reached the NMSU 14 with just under a minute left, facing a fourth-and-two. Kennedy ran an option play and had just long enough reach to get the first down just inside the 12, a ruling that required a lenghty measure followed by an even longer review by the officials after NMSU challenged the call, but the review confirmed the ruling on the field. On the next play, Smith plowed ahead for a 4-yard gain and on the following play, Kennedy hit Austin with a toss in the corner of the endzone for the game-winning TD with 35 seconds left.
USU will play in its first bowl game since 1997 when the navy Aggies play in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, Idaho on Saturday against a Mid-American Conference opponent to be announced later. The game will kickoff at 3:30 p.m. (MT) and will be on national television on ESPN.
For Aggie Football Famous Idaho Potato Bowl ticket information, fans can contact the USU Ticket Office at 1-888-USTATE-1 (1-888-878-2831) or 435-797-0305, in person at the USU Ticket Office inside the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, or online at www.UtahStateAggies.com.
Fans can follow the Aggie football program at twitter.com/USUFootball or on the USU football blog at usufootball.wordpress.com. Aggie fans can also follow the Utah State athletic program at twitter.com/USUAthletics or on facebook at Utah State University Athletics.