BOISE, Idaho — For the Utah State Aggies, their second time at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl was the charm.
A magical season — one that saw the Aggies break new ground by earning a BCS ranking for the first time, winning their first outright conference championship since the 1930s and winning the most games in school history — finished with a ending worthy of the record-setting campaign.
On the strength of an explosive fourth quarter the Aggies rolled Toledo 41-15 to win the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Saturday and achieve a school-record 11th victory.
The postseason win — a year after USU lost to Ohio in heartbreaking fashion in the same bowl — is just Utah State’s second bowl victory in school history and the first since winning Las Vegas Bowl II in 1993.
"The second half was off the charts for these kids," Utah State head coach Gary Andersen said. "Once again, they came out bound and determined to do something special and they found a way."
What many assumed was going to be an offensive shootout turned out to be a defensive slugfest — for most of the afternoon. Utah State clung to a 13-6 lead on the strength of two Nick Diaz field goals and a 62-yard Chuckie Keeton run entering the fourth quarter.
With just over nine minutes left Toledo was turned away by the Aggie defense on a 4th-and-1 from the Utah State 9-yard line. After the stop the tide seemed to be turning in the Aggies favor, but quickly shifted back to the Rockets as Utah State running back Kerwynn Williams fumbled away the ball after a long gain on the Aggies' next play.
Utah State’s defense held Toledo to just a field goal, however, and set up Williams for a chance at redemption.
He responded brilliantly, producing a fourth-quarter stretch that will go down in Aggie lore.
“I just feel like when stuff like that happens you just have to have a short memory," Williams said. "There is nothing you can do to change it. I can’t replay the play and hold onto the ball tighter. I just knew the next opportunity I got I had to make a big play.”
Williams did just that. On his next touch — just two offensive plays later — Williams gashed the Rocket defense straight up the middle for a 63-yard touchdown run to put the Aggies up 20-9.
“After that fumble happened, I was just more determined to get it going,” Williams said. “I wanted to do something big to help the team out, to make up for it. I just have to thank my teammates for standing behind me and creating opportunities for me to do that.”
Just one touchdown wasn’t going to be enough for Williams. On the Aggies' next drive he was a one-man offense, collecting three more runs for 62 yards and his second touchdown of the game.
The offensive flurry finished on Williams' next carry, a 25-yard touchdown run, which put the Aggies up 34-9 and started the victory celebration among the thousands of Aggie faithful who made the trip from Cache Valley.
In just 3:16 of game time the senior did more than most running backs do in entire games, carrying the ball five times for 150 yards and three touchdowns.
"I have to thank (offensive coordinator Matt) Wells for still having the faith in me to give me the football,” Williams said. “The offensive line did a great job blocking their front and opened up some creases for me. From there, it's history.”
Williams finished with 235 yards rushing, 191 coming in the game’s final quarter, on his way to being named the bowl MVP for Utah State. The yardage was the second most in Potato Bowl history and the 11th most in Utah State history.
While Williams was the offensive star it was a team effort from Utah State’s defense to keep the Aggies in the game while the offense struggled to find its feet. Thanks to the crucial fourth-down stop and a Kyler Fackrell interception, Toledo came away with just a single field goal in three red-zone trips in the second half.
“They bowed up once again, made a bunch of plays when they needed to,” Andersen said. “Our coaches did a good job of coaching our scheme down there all year long. These young men came out and executed it.”
Kraig is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter at DesNewsKraig.