Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Somewhere, sometime, somehow, someplace, the Aggies must've angered the mighty football gods. And they've been paying for it ever since.
How else could you explain those three agonizing losses that have befallen Utah State's hard-luck football program thus far this season?
Some folks might suggest that the Aggies are simply snake-bitten, cursed and can't catch a break. Others might call them the biggest "choke" artists since, well, this year's Boston Red Sox, who blew a nine-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays over the final four weeks of the season and missed out on their chance to reach the American League playoffs by losing to the lowly, last-place Baltimore Orioles on the last day of the season.
That "choke" term is one we probably use too often in sports, implying that a team fell completely apart, squandered a great opportunity by making mistakes, or let the pressure get to them and collapsed, all the while failing to give proper credit to the opposing team that refused to quit and rallied to win.
Indeed, instead of crediting BYU for staging a valiant comeback, rallying from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter, we're too quick to pile on a team like the Aggies and say, hey, they "choked" again.
Unfair as it may be, you have to wonder who or what higher power the Aggies irritated that somehow allowed them to blow late fourth-quarter leads and subsequently suffer three heartbreaking losses in games they seemingly had all but won this season:
Leading defending national champion Auburn by 10 points, 38-28, on the road with just 3:38 left to play, it could've been one of the greatest wins in USU history. Instead, Utah State gave up two touchdowns in the final 2:07 and lost, 42-38. Auburn, boosted by a brilliant onside kick recovery and return, scored the winning TD with 30 seconds left.
Leading Colorado State by eight points, 21-13, in Logan with little more than two minutes remaining, all the Aggies needed to do was safely field a punt and run out the clock.
Instead, Utah State muffed the punt at its own 15-yard line, allowing Colorado State to score a touchdown and a game-tying two-point conversion with 36 seconds remaining in regulation.
Then, trailing by a point in the second overtime, all Robert Turbin — arguably one of the best running backs in the entire nation — needed to do is go a yard and half for a two-point conversion that would've won the game. But he was stopped short of the goal line and USU lost, 35-34.
Leading BYU 24-13 early in the fourth quarter, the Aggies appeared on their way to a second straight victory over their in-state rivals, this time in Provo. However, as per luckless USU's fate of late, it was not to be.
Utah State still clung to a 24-20 lead with time running out. But backup quarterback Riley Nelson, a former Aggie QB and hometown hero from Logan High, twisted the knife in the feeling-betrayed Aggies' hearts just a little bit more by engineering a gritty BYU rally.
Nelson culminated the Cougars' comeback with his 13-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to Marcus Mathews with just 11 seconds left — the decisive pass was even tipped away from the intended receiver by a USU defender, no less, only to fall into Mathews' hands — lifting BYU to a dramatic 27-24 victory.
And breaking Utah State's hearts once again — three gut-wrenching defeats that came oh, so close to being glorious victories.
Three times the Aggies coulda, woulda and probably shoulda won. But on each occasion, they couldn't close the deal.
So, were they gallant rallies by their opponents or colossal "choke" jobs by the Aggies?
Well, two of the three losses came on the road, where it's never easy to come away with a win over the home team with its huge crowd urging them on.
Sure, you could certainly classify the loss to Colorado State in the "choke" category. That's only fair. But as for the BYU and Auburn losses, let's credit the home team for having the resolve to find a way to pull out a narrow, last-gasp win rather than shoving that ugly "choke" finger down the Aggies' throats.
But the fact remains that Utah State is essentially three or four plays — an onside kick, a punt or a two-point conversion, a deflected enemy pass — away from being 4-0 instead of 1-3.
No wonder they feel so snake-bitten and cursed in Cache Valley. That dark cloud of defeat just keeps hanging over their heads, it seems, and won't go away.
Somewhere, sometime, somehow, someplace, the Aggies are going to win a game like those that have escaped their grasp thus far this season. Someday that dark cloud's gonna go away, the sun is going to shine brightly and Utah State is going to stop snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Then, finally, the football gods might smile on the Aggies, lift the curse that has been following them around and, at last, let this long-suffering program turn that almighty corner they've been trying to turn for seemingly forever.
And, hopefully, when that great day arrives, nobody will be able to accuse them of being a terrible "choker" any more.
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