LOGAN — Utah State’s hopes of regaining the mythical Jim Bridger rifle were shot down by the Cowboys with a strong fourth-quarter performance by Wyoming Saturday night at Maverik Stadium.
Down 23-16 early in the quarter, the Cowboys regained the lead behind a field goal and a 28-yard touchdown pass by Josh Allen, then Wyoming secured the victory by recovering a USU fumble and sacking Aggie quarterback Kent Myers for a safety in the final three minutes.
“We’ve renewed a great rivalry with Utah State,” Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said following his team’s 28-23 victory in the game known as “Bridger’s Battle” since 2013. “It was a great team win. We felt coming in that it was going to be a really, really close game, and that’s what it turned out to be.”
Flying high two weeks ago following their victory over BYU, the Aggies (3-4 overall, 1-2 in the Mountain West) have now lost two straight games to Mountain Division rivals, while Wyoming (4-2, 2-0 has won three in a row.
Playing in its first close contest of the season, Utah State was unable to close out a victory during its homecoming game. “That locker room hurts. I hurt for them, and I hurt with them,” USU head coach Matt Wells said. “It was a close ballgame down to the end, and we couldn’t come away with the win.”
Allen led the way for the Cowboys Saturday, completing 18 of 26 passes for 208 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound NFL prospect also carried the ball 16 times for a net of just 36 yards, thanks to three USU sacks, but the junior quarterback ran for some very key yardage as Wyoming rallied down the stretch.
While Wyoming’s offense didn’t really come around until late in the game, Utah State’s offense moved the ball sporadically, thanks to five turnovers (three interceptions and two lost fumbles) that continually killed its momentum.
Although Wells said he planned to play backup quarterback Jordan Love for a series in the second quarter heading into the game, he stuck with the redshirt freshman longer than that in an effort to go with “the hot hand.” But after Love opened the second half by throwing back-to-back interceptions, Wells reinstated Myers. By the end of the night, Myers had completed 11 of 20 passes for 94 yards, while Love was 8 of 18 for 109 yards with three picks.
Overall, the Aggies outgained Wyoming 363 yards to 293 yards and totaled 23 first downs to 14 for the Cowboys. Utah State led the majority of the game, thanks to field goals of 45, 31 and 49 yards by Domink Eberle in the first half.
The Aggies’ lone touchdown of the opening half came when Myers handed the ball off to running back LaJuan Hunt Jr., who promptly tossed the ball to Aaron Vaughns going the other way. The junior wide receiver then stopped along the eastern sideline and lofted up a pass into the corner of the end zone that senior wideout Braelon Roberts highpointed and pulled down for the score.
The Aggies’ halftime lead of 16-9 held up until midway through the third quarter when Wyoming defensive end Kevin Prosser jumped up and snagged a pass by Love and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown with 8:46 to go.
The game was still tied at 16-16 about three minutes into the fourth quarter when Wells elected to forgo a shot at a 21-yard field goal. Instead, holder DJ Nelson took the snap, Eberle faked the kick and Nelson ran the ball in for the score.
“We needed a score right there, and we got in a situation where we felt comfortable with the fake and the good look,” said Nelson, who also scored a touchdown last week after blocking a Colorado State punt. “We had 11 guys do their job, and I was able to do what I needed to do to get across the goal line. Props to the guys in the unit and to coach Wells and coach (Mark) Tommerdahl having the confidence to call the play and let us execute it.”
Arguably USU’s top offensive weapon on Saturday, senior running back Hunt broke loose for a 10-yard gain on first and 10 from the 34 with three minutes left in the game. Hunt then went for 7 more yards on the next play, but on second and 3, Wyoming’s Conner Cain knocked the football out of Hunt’s hands and the fumble was recovered by Wyoming linebacker Cassh Malala with 2:31 left in the game.
Although the Cowboys did little with the following possession, the Aggies could only stop the clock once after burning two timeouts earlier in the half. Utah State ended up getting the ball back with a minute remaining, but Myers was sacked in the end zone by Carl Granderson on second down.
Wyoming then successfully covered up USU’s free kick to secure the win and set up a race by the Cowboys for the “Bridger’s Battle” rifle in the north end zone.
“They found a way to win it at the end,” Wells said. “I thought our kids played tough, and I thought they played hard. It was a really physical game. I said all week that the turnover margin would be the difference in the ballgame, and it was.”
Hunt ended up rushing for 73 yards on 18 carries, while tight end Dax Raymond led the Aggies in receiving with five catches for 72 yards. Defensively, USU junior linebacker Suli Tamaivena totaled 14 tackles, including two sacks, while senior safety Dallin Leavitt ended up with eight tackles and the Aggies’ lone interception of the night early in the first quarter