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Utah State football: Aggies take the next step in their journey to football prominence

Published: Tuesday, July 28 2015 7:22 p.m. MDT

USU Coach Gary Andersen celebrates as Utah State University defeatsToledo 41-15 as they play football in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012,in Boise, Idaho. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) USU Coach Gary Andersen celebrates as Utah State University defeatsToledo 41-15 as they play football in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012,in Boise, Idaho. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

BOISE — The Utah State Aggies didn't skip any of it this time around. The fist-pumping, arm-waving and bull-calling were right on schedule. Staying on the field way past quittin' time?

They simply had to do that, too.

Fans stormed the electric blue turf, as though it had been a long, long wait. Imagine that.

Even bowl officials got into the act, tossing potatoes into the crowd after USU's 41-15 Potato Bowl win over Toledo on Saturday.

Next up for Utah State's program? Did someone say Viva Las Vegas?

"I don't know," Andersen deferred. "This was the best season ever in the history of Utah State football. These guys have got that, until someone takes it away from them. Eleven-and-two is hard to match, for sure, but right now I'm gonna enjoy 11-2. I'll worry about the future in few days. It won't be tonight, it won't be tomorrow, it won't be next day. I'm going to enjoy it for a minute and go from there."

USU Coach Gary Andersen and MVP Utah State Aggies running back Kerwynn Williams (25) celebrate as Utah State University defeatsToledo 41-15 as they play football in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012,in Boise, Idaho. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) USU Coach Gary Andersen and MVP Utah State Aggies running back Kerwynn Williams (25) celebrate as Utah State University defeatsToledo 41-15 as they play football in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012,in Boise, Idaho. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

The Las Vegas Bowl, home of the Mountain West champ, can wait.

The (Not Particularly) Famous Idaho Potato Bowl may be the smallest bowl of all, but a team has to start someplace. Last year the Aggies gained a bowl berth. This year they commandeered one.

According to Andersen, that's not small potatoes.

All this is just the prelude, the Aggies hope. Last December's game ended in a last-minute loss to Ohio.

"The feeling right now is completely different," Andersen said.

The 2011 Aggie team was surprising, a sudden break in a long and tortured history of bad football. USU's only previous bowl victory was a 42-33 win over Ball State in the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl. Even in their "glory years" (1960-61), the Aggies lost bowl games to New Mexico State and Baylor.

Utah State Aggies running back and game MVP Kerwynn Williams (25) celebrates a touchdown as Utah State University defeatsToledo 41-15 as they play football in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012,in Boise, Idaho. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah State Aggies running back and game MVP Kerwynn Williams (25) celebrates a touchdown as Utah State University defeatsToledo 41-15 as they play football in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012,in Boise, Idaho. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

Last season was the first significant step, by getting back into the postseason. Utah State got approved last summer to join the Mountain West. Next on the agenda: Bringing something home besides the equipment truck.

Trophies, for example.

That's the thing: Learning to win bowl games is an art. Andersen should know. As an assistant coach at Utah, he was 6-0, including Sugar and Fiesta Bowl wins.

"You definitely never want to stagnate year to year," Andersen said last week. "That's why this program is on the rise, going to bowl games, going to a new conference next year. We're making steps in the right direction."

While USU did lead after both the first (7-3) and second (10-6) quarters on Saturday, it didn't exactly dominate. Which was strange, in a way. The Aggies spent the year bolting out of the blocks. This is a team that outscored its opponents 31-6 during first quarters in the regular season. Not so on Saturday, though it did avoid allowing a first quarter touchdown — the entire year.

Utah State Aggies running back and game MVP Kerwynn Williams (25) celebrates a touchdown as Utah State University defeatsToledo 41-15 as they play football in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012,in Boise, Idaho. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah State Aggies running back and game MVP Kerwynn Williams (25) celebrates a touchdown as Utah State University defeatsToledo 41-15 as they play football in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012,in Boise, Idaho. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

But this time the Aggies saved it all for the fourth, racking up 28 points.

Despite a close first half, it was like watching grass grow — which doesn't happen on the artificial blue turf at Bronco Stadium. Of USU's 243 first-half yards, 102 of them were on two plays: Chuckie Keeton's 62-yard run and his 40-yard pass.

It could have been a different finish, of course. After Kerwynn Williams fumbled the ball with the Aggies protecting a 13-6 lead three minutes into the fourth quarter, things looked tenuous again for USU.

Who knew Williams would thereafter roll for three scores? Just like that, he went from Mr. Potato Head to Mr. Potato Bowl. He was voted the MVP of the game, rushing for 235 yards.

USU assistant coach Mike Sanford as Utah State University defeats Toledo 41-15 as they play football in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012,in Boise, Idaho. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) USU assistant coach Mike Sanford as Utah State University defeats Toledo 41-15 as they play football in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012,in Boise, Idaho. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

And while USU will be without 19 of this year's seniors next season, including Williams, it has Keeton back, along with four other first-team and five second-team all-WAC players. Backup running back Joe Hill gave a preview of next year by rushing for a 24-yard score.

"The cupboard is definitely not bare," Andersen said.

Shortly thereafter, Andersen left Bronco Stadium with the bowl trophy under his arm. Nestled in the glass bowl were several large Idaho potatoes — all that were left after game officials had finished lobbing them to Aggie fans. It somehow seemed apropos.

After that many years of waiting, winning any bowl is big potatoes indeed.

email: rock@desnews.com

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