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Utah State football: Defense drove Aggies to Mountain West championship game

Published: Wednesday, July 29 2015 4:28 p.m. MDT

Utah State's Jake Doughty celebrates an interception with teammate Jeremy Morris as Utah State and Wyoming play Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Logan. USU won, 35-7. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Utah State's Jake Doughty celebrates an interception with teammate Jeremy Morris as Utah State and Wyoming play Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Logan. USU won, 35-7. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

LOGAN — Back in the middle of October, the Utah State Aggies looked like they were done. Without injured quarterback Chuckie Keeton, the Aggies lost back-to-back games to BYU and Boise State and sat with a 3-4 record. Everyone counted them out of the championship picture.

Everyone but the players themselves.

“Our senior class is a strong class,” running back Joey DeMartino said after USU's 35-7 win over Wyoming on Saturday. “There are a bunch of winners in this class. Right after those games were over I knew I was ready to get back to work. I had no doubt our team would keep fighting.”

The Aggies reeled off five straight victories to win the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference. The biggest key during the streak has been the defense. After allowing only a single score against Wyoming Saturday, USU has given up 10 points or less in four of five games since the loss to Boise State.

USU's Kyler Fackrell and a teammate bring down Shaun Wick as Utah State and Wyoming play Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Logan. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) USU's Kyler Fackrell and a teammate bring down Shaun Wick as Utah State and Wyoming play Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Logan. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Against Hawaii last week, Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith accounted for a conference-record 640 yards of total offense. On Saturday, facing a swarming and unrelenting Aggie defense, Smith finished with just 162 yards throwing and minus-6 net yards on the ground.

The only mistake the defense made came early in the fourth quarter when Smith found wide out Dominic Rufran on a 60-yard bomb for Wyoming’s lone score. The touchdown ended a shutout streak for the Utah State defense that spanned 117 minutes and 15 seconds — dating back to the fourth quarter of a win at UNLV on Nov. 9. Wyoming twice made it inside the Utah State 20-yard line, but did not come away with points on either drive.

“I thought the defense was exceptional,” Utah State coach Matt Wells said. “Bottom line: This is the best defense in the Mountain West Conference. They proved it again and again this afternoon. Defense wins championships, especially late in the year.”

USU's AJ Pataiali'i tries to sack Wyoming's Brett Smith as Utah State and Wyoming play Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Logan. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) USU's AJ Pataiali'i tries to sack Wyoming's Brett Smith as Utah State and Wyoming play Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Logan. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

The defense will get its chance to prove it against Fresno State in the Mountain West title game. The Bulldogs lead the nation in passing yards and score more than 47 points per game.

“We are on an emotional high right now,” defensive back Tay Glover-Wright said. “We know that Sunday or Monday it will be time to get back to work. We are Mountain champs, but we are trying to take it all.”

Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.

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