It won't sting at all. It's a tremendous, tremendous day for these kids. It was a tremendous opportunity for them to be here," Andersen said. "It's a loss. I'm never going to sit back and say 'It's OK we lost.' I'm not saying that at all.
BOISE — Painful barely begins to describe it.
After looking like they had finally exorcised their late-game demons, Utah State's football team had a frustrating flashback to the beginning of the season. The Aggies (7-6) trailed Ohio (10-4) for just 13 seconds, but those 13 seconds were enough for the Bobcats to claim a 24-23 victory over Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Saturday.
Both teams traded punts for most of the fourth quarter and Ohio began its final drive from its own 39-yard line, trailing by six points, with 2:02 left on the clock. The Bobcats quickly marched down inside the Utah State 20 with a minute to go.
With the game on the line, the USU defense stiffened up and forced a fourth-and-6 with 45 seconds remaining. Utah State head coach Gary Andersen rolled the dice and called a blitz that had Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton under pressure before he lofted a pass that teammate LaVon Brazill found for the first down.
"We had great coverage, had two free-hitters running at the quarterback and he has to throw it off his back leg. What more could you want out of a blitz? A kid's got to make a play in that position, their player made a play and our player didn't," Andersen said of the play call.
"That particular blitz, not the exact one but something very similar, has won us two games out of the last five games we've played. It got us out of fourth downs, but it didn't get us out of that fourth down."
Two plays later, Tettleton finished off the Aggies by beating the defense to the corner and scoring the game-winning touchown. Tettleton finished the game with 220 yards passing and two touchdowns while adding 31 more yards and another score on the ground. Brazill was named MVP of the game for Ohio after grabbing eight balls for 108 yards and a touchdown.
Utah State was in control early, getting on the board first thanks to a Tettleton fumble that was recovered out of bounds, resulting in a safety. The Aggies grasped the momentum on their ensuing drive, moving steadily down the field for a touchdown pass from Adam Kennedy to tight end Tarren Lloyd that gave Utah State an early 9-0 advantage. Tettleton responded with a touchdown pass of his own in the second quarter to close the gap to 9-7 at halftime in a surprisingly defensive struggle.
Running back Michael Smith broke open the scoring in a huge third quarter. Smith scampered down the sideline for a 63-yard touchdown on Utah State's second snap of the second half.
On Utah State's next possession, Smith scored his second touchdown from 11 yards out to put the Aggies up 23-10 midway through the third quarter. The senior running back from Tucson, Ariz., was named Utah State's MVP of the game for his career-high 157 yards and two-TD rushing performance. Backfield mate Robert Turbin finished with 101 rushing yards as the sixth-ranked USU rushing attack lived up to its billing by racking up 345 yards on the ground.
"We got a great crew of backs," said Turbin. "We all love each other and have a great camaraderie in our running back room. We play to be the best every single day. That's our motto. When the opportunity presents itself to step on the field and be able to make plays, we just try and take advantage."
Following Smith's second touchdown, however, it was all downhill for the Aggies. Ohio closed the gap to six points just five plays later when Tettleton found his favorite target Brazill on a 44-yard strike to make it 23-17.
Utah State was unable to add any points to the scoreboard in its next three drives, setting up the eventual late-game heroics by Ohio.
Even with the sting of another painful loss, Andersen remained upbeat following the game. He chose not to focus on the disappointment of coming so close to the Aggies' first bowl victory in 17 years, but instead on the successful season that led to reaching the bowl game.
"It won't sting at all. It's a tremendous, tremendous day for these kids. It was a tremendous opportunity for them to be here," Andersen said. "It's a loss. I'm never going to sit back and say 'It's OK we lost.' I'm not saying that at all.
"Our mindset now is to start fighting again for the next season. Every loss stings and every loss is difficult, especially for these kids, but it is learning. Sometimes it takes teams a while to get to a bowl game and a while to win a bowl game. I've never lost a bowl game before, but I'll learn from it and so will the kids."