SAN JOSE — A year ago, Utah State and San Jose State staged a shootout here at Spartan Stadium with nearly 1,000 yards of offense and 76 points scored.
This year, the Aggies produced another impressive offensive performance with 500-plus yards, but this time added a stifling defense in a 40-12 victory Friday night in a marathon game that lasted nearly four hours.
With the victory, the Aggies improved to 3-2 overall and stayed perfect in Mountain West Conference play at 2-0. They bounced back from last week’s 17-14 loss to USC with a sharp offensive performance and a tough defensive effort.
Chuckie Keeton threw three touchdown passes to increase his nation-leading total to 17 as he completed 29 of 42 passes for 260 yards. Joey DeMartino ran for 120 yards and Keeton added 52 on the ground for a touchdown. Nick Diaz booted four field goals to tie an Aggie record.
But it was the defense that really sparkled. The Aggies never let quarterback David Fales get untracked as he completed barely half his passes (25 of 48), and the Spartans only rushed for 101 yards. The Aggies also came up with three interceptions by Maurice Alexander, Nevin Lawson and Jeremy Morris.
After taking a 23-6 first-half lead, the Aggies added to their advantage with a 75-yard drive, following a freak play when it looked like the Spartans might close the gap to 10.
The Spartans had taken the second-half kickoff and moved to the 1-yard line, but on third down, the shotgun snap sailed way over the head of Fales and was recovered by the Aggies at the 25.
The Aggies started a drive that was interrupted for 15 minutes when San Jose State cornerback Bene’ Benwikere was knocked out making a tackle on USU tight end D.J. Tailavea. He was put in a neck brace and taken out on a board, and as of press time the extent of his injury was unknown.
That seemed to take a lot of the energy out of the Spartans as the Aggies moved down the field with Keeton hitting Brandon Swindall with a 17-yard touchdown pass to make it 30-6.
The Spartans finally scored a touchdown when Jason Simpson scored on a 1-yard run with 3:02 left in the third quarter to cut the Aggie lead to 30-12 after the two-point conversion failed. But the Aggies came back with another touchdown before the quarter was over as Keeton scampered in from nine yards out.
Then in the fourth quarter, the Aggies chewed up 8:44 on a 17-play drive that culminated with a 21-yard Nick Diaz field goal.
In the first half, the Aggies got on the board first with Keeton hitting D.J. Tialavea with a three-yard touchdown pass to cap a 10-play 75-yard drive.
The Spartans responded with a long drive of their own, but the Aggies held them to a 31-yard field goal by Austin Lopez. But USU came right back with another touchdown drive with Keeton hitting Keegan Andersen with a 5-yard touchdown pass to increase the lead to 14-3.
A double reverse run by Bruce Natson for 14 yards and a 30-yard pass to Brandon Swindall gave the Aggies the ball at the 5, but a penalty pushed them back and they had to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Nick Diaz.
Later in the quarter, Lopez added another field goal, this time from 45 yards to make it 20-3, his 23rd straight over two seasons.
A roughing the passer penalty negated an Aggie interception by Quinton Byrd and the Spartans took advantage, completing a 31-yard pass on 4th-and-9 to the USU 7. But again the Aggies held and Lopez made another field goal to cut the lead to 20-6 with 5:48 left.
For the third straight drive, the Aggies couldn’t get in the end zone and Diaz bailed them out with another 24-yard field goal. The Spartans completed three long passes before the half to move into field goal range, but Lopez missed the first field goal of his career from 42 yards out.
Next week, the Aggies play another Friday night game when they play host to BYU at Romney Stadium, while San Jose State (1-3, 0-1) plays at Hawaii.