Ryan Duve didn't know what to do. The 6-foot-7 Utah State junior tight end had never caught a touchdown pass in a college game, yet a play came in from the sidelines that would give him that chance: X-Y cross. He was X.
"I couldn't believe he called it; they haven't called it all year," said Duve, still smiling hours later. "I was like, `OK Coach (Pat) Behrns!"' Duve said of his offensive coordinator.Obviously, Duve made the catch.
When Ron Lopez puts the ball out there, "If I don't make the catch, it's my fault," said Duve.
His second-quarter grab coming over the middle in the south end zone at Romney Stadium Saturday afternoon gave the Aggies a 17-0 lead. They went up 31-0 by halftime, then held pat for a 31-6 Big West victory over Nevada-Las Vegas.
Lopez threw two TD passes, halfback Floyd Foreman threw one to Tracey Jenkins and ran for a TD, and halfback Roger Grant amassed another 162 yards on 28 carries before leaving with a shoulder bruise early in the fourth quarter. Grant has also had rushing games of 292 and 197 yards and has 810 for the season.
"We played well the first half, then got out of sync," said Aggie Coach Chuck Shelton, who admitted, "I thought we had to win this one" after four straight un-victories.
"We let our exhuberance slip once we got the big lead," he added.
The win made Utah State 2-1-1 in league play and cut UNLV to 3-2. The Aggies are 2-4-1 overall, the Rebs 4-5.
And it made an even bigger folk hero out of Duve, the 26-year-old Air Force veteran who was discovered playing service ball in Germany.
Duve caught two passes for 14 yards and a TD, giving him 22 receptions for the year. That's already just one pass less than he had all of last year.
But he didn't know what to do in the end zone. "I was looking for someone to grab," he said, but mainly he just trotted off the field matter-of-factly. "I didn't want to do too much. I didn't want to get a penalty called," Duve said. Maybe if he'd have scored before, he said, he'd have known what to do.
"Just a normal thing for him," said offensive tackle Ed Silva about Duve's casual celebration. "We were pretty happy for him."
It was a happy day in Logan, despite a potentially serious knee ligament injury to all-conference cornerback candidate Greg Haynes.
For the second game in a row, it was 10-0 minutes into the first quarter; this time, it was Utah State with the 10.
"Quite a turnaround from the San Jose game," beamed Aggie quarterback Lopez, sitting in the training room with electrodes stuck in his throwing elbow trying to erase the effects of a bone bruise that removed him from the game with about seven minutes left in the second quarter. Kirk Johnson replaced him. The score was already 31-0. Vegas didn't score until there were 30 seconds left in the game, Derek Stott passing to Keenan McCardle against the Aggies' second and third defense. "We got all the breaks," Lopez added.
"The game started off on a bad note," said UNLV first-year Coach Jim Strong. "We kick off and maybe get a 10-yard kickoff. We made a lot of crucial mistakes, and physically, they just dominated the game. They were far superior."
The Aggies got a Doug Beach field goal as the result of the short kickoff, and a 48-yard Roger Grant run on first down of the Aggies' next possession set up a Lopez to Jim Ray TD pass just 4:30 into the game for a 10-0 lead.
UNLV fumbled its next possession, and league-leading punt returner Hunkie Cooper dropped a punt before Duve's milestone catch came at the end of a resultant 15-play, 80-yard drive with 13:44 left in the half.
The Aggies fumbled away a punt, but UNLV failed on a 53-yard field goal - one of many scoring attempts that fizzled for the Rebs.
It was the first of four times the Rebels had fourth-down scoring opportunities that were stopped by the Aggies. After the missed field goal, UNLV gave up its kicking game. The Rebs ran down to fourth down at the Aggie 11 and were stopped on a pitchout by Toby Tyler and Damon Smith; they were stopped at fourth-and-goal on a run to the 2; they were stopped on fourth-and-goal when Stott's pass was too high.
"I called all those defensive plays," joked Shelton, taking mock credit for Coach Fred Bleil's defensive troops. "The fourth-down plays you take personally," he said more seriously.
Linebacker Piliki Tauteoli, who made eight tackles, two for loss, agreed. He noted fourth-down plays against Fresno and San Jose the past two weeks. "We've played with the best already and proved we can," he said. "We're hard to score on." When play gets close to the goal line, Tauteoli gets the "Texas" call, which puts him 1-on-1 with the quarterback. It's his job to hurry him, and a couple of times, Stott backed away from center without the ball.
Those weren't the only things that went wrong for the Rebs. Strong benched Cooper, who may become UNLV's single-season all-purpose-yards record-holder this season, early in the second quarter. Cooper apparently yelled at McCardle, and Strong felt the need to discipline him. "Part of coaching," Strong said. It was "nothing major," Strong added. "You try to teach kids how to act. Kids get frustrated."
Even though the USU intensity level might have dropped after it got to be 31-0, this was the day for which the Ags have waited six weeks. First two byes following their only previous win, then four straight away games in which they were the underdog.
By Saturday, they'd been written off as road kill, though only a couple of bounces kept them from wins the past two weeks.
The odds were not lost on Lopez, who read the lines in the LA papers. "Thirty-five, 14, 33 points," he remembered. "We're a great team. People underestimate us," he said. "We're going to surprise a lot of people."
Rushing - UNR fullback Ray Whalen ran for 220 yards. Whalen is only the 9th player ever to rush for over 200 yards against Weber. The last time it happened was in 1982.
Ended streak - Weber quarterback Jamie Martin's string of six consecutive 300-plus yard passing games stopped here. He finished with only 238 yards.
Offense - The Wildcats, which were No. 1 in total offense with 508.8 yards per game, got only 312 total yards.