LOGAN — Aggie fans have seen all of this before.
Following four lost fumbles from Utah State — the most detrimental coming from former Colorado State recruit Eric Moats late in the fourth quarter, with his team holding onto a precarious one-possession lead — the Aggies came this close to using its homecoming game Saturday to achieve its best start in 14 years before instead falling to the Rams in double-overtime, 35-34.
Star Aggie running back Robert Turbin was stopped cold one-and-a-half yards from the end zone when USU head coach Gary Andersen made a gutsy call in going for a two-point conversion and the would-be victory following a 25-yard TD run by Turbin on the Aggie's possession in second overtime. Turbin’s failed attempt came after a wry pass attempt from USU quarterback Chuckie Keeton at the goal line was ruled pass interference against Colorado State. It was a rare passing opportunity on the night for Keeton, the freshman signal-caller, who only threw 15 times for 86 yards.
But Utah State couldn’t convert on its second chance, leaving the Aggies with its third 1-2 start in as many seasons under Andersen heading into Friday’s showdown with BYU in Provo. The Aggies beat the Cougars 31-16 last October in Logan for its first win over BYU in 17 years.
The defeat was no mystery to Andersen — and it had nothing to do with unconventional play-calling.
“You lose a turnover battle 4-1, you’re not going to win games, period,” Andersen said. “If that’s the case, you’re going to have a hard time winning games. I believe we can score from the three-yard line at any time and I surely believe we can score from the one-and-a-half-yard line. I would do it again in one second. I’m always going to coach aggressive and that’s what I’m going to be.”
CSU running back Chris Nwoke plowed a two-yard TD run in the Rams’ second-overtime possession following a pass interference call against Aggie cornerback and junior college transfer Jumanne Robertson on the Rams’ first play in the overtime period. The score came after CSU tight end Crockett Gillmore caught an eight-yard touchdown pass on third-and-4 in the first overtime to tie the game at 28 after Turbin bullied two carries for 14 and nine yards, respectively, to draw first blood in the initial overtime.
Nwoke tallied 21 carries for 72 yards in the contest, while CSU quarterback Pete Thomas was 15-27 for 107 yards, though he was sacked four times.
“There was some screwball stuff that happened out there that allowed the game to get to where it did,” said CSU head coach Steve Fairchild. “There was never any doubt on the sideline; we thought that we could come back.”
Fairchild said he was “not really” surprised by a two-point conversion call that the Aggies decided to attempt.
“I did expect it,” he said. “Gary Andersen is a good coach. It’s a good call when it works and it isn’t when it doesn’t.”
All dramatics were initially sparked when Fairchild — with his team trailing by eight points — opted to punt with 2:06 left in regulation, facing fourth-and-30 at midfield after Ram quarterback Pete Thomas was sacked and two penalties ensued on the same series. Moats, who no longer garnered interest from CSU coaches in 2006 after expressing a desire to serve an LDS mission, had also fumbled a punt return at the CSU 35 at the 4:18 mark of the first quarter before the Aggie defense held.
No such defensive stand happened in Moats’ sequel. After Moats fumbled at the 15, Nwoke rushed for six and seven yards on his first two carries of the drive to set up his own touchdown run with 42 seconds on the clock to narrow the Aggie advantage to 21-19. Though a false start penalty pushed the Rams back on their two-point conversion attempt, Thomas connected with Gilmore through the air to knot the game.
The Aggies seemed to be in control when Turbin plunged from one yard into the end zone with 4:56 remaining in the game. A short drive began after sophomore Ram fullback Joe Brown fumbled at his team’s own 27-yard line, setting up an eight-play drive that was entirely comprised of rushing plays, half from Turbin. The junior carried the ball 27 times for 115 yards and four touchdowns Saturday night.
Turbin said that the play behind the conversion attempt — and standard hand-off from Keaton to Turbin before the running back swept to the left side and was forced out of bounds by multiple CSU defenders — was something the team works on each practice.
“You know, I thought I lost the game,” Turbin said. “But you have to give it to CSU for what they did defensively on that play. I beg coaches to let me make those key plays. I trust coach (Dave) Baldwin (the USU offensive coordinator) with all confidence. I think maybe I could have stopped on a dime and turned the other way, make something out of nothing. Try to hook into my Barry Sanders.”
The Aggies’ big contest at LaVell Edward Stadium in Provo Friday will start at 6 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN.
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