LOGAN — In the Department of You Have One Job, Dominik Eberle took care all the important details, Saturday at Maverik Stadium. He laid waste to the record books, scoring enough points to win the game all by his lonesome.
“Tonight,” Eberle said, “was just one of those nights.”
Nights where you can send everyone home early and say, “I got this.”
It hasn’t always been that way. The trouble came on a 90-degree day in Tucson last December, when he missed four field goals in Utah State’s Arizona Bowl loss. Saturday, it again was 90 degrees — in Logan. This time, he was impossibly perfect, in Utah State’s 60-13 win over New Mexico State.
The difference in both December and September was Eberle. This time, he crushed it. Roll the credits: tied for most kicking points in a game (24) in NCAA history; tied for most 50-plus-yard field goals (3) in a game; school and conference records for field goals in a game (6). He also finished just one field goal shy of the NCAA record.
So Eberle can put his Arizona Bowl meltdown in the dead letter file. Twenty-four points in a game?
LeBron James would be OK with that
It’s hard to say exactly how good USU is — NMSU has been outscored 137-30 in its three losses — but apparently it’s better than last year, having dismantled the same opponent that claimed last winter’s bowl game.
Trite as redemption stories can be, they nearly always maintain some genuine appeal. Goat-to-hero is as American as fast food.
“He’s a grinder, man,” said coach Matt Wells.
Saturday’s game was the 120th home opener in school history. It was an intriguing rematch, considering what happened last winter, i.e., Aggie on Aggie. Food poisoning had stricken Eberle that day, and he was spraying kicks all over the Southwest. Among his four missed field goals was a 29-yarder in the overtime. It was a cruel way to lose, considering he made 18 of 24 attempts during the regular season.
Redemption couldn’t come soon enough.
Or could it?
“Honestly, I didn’t even think of it,” he said.
There is symmetry to these teams playing, even though they are no longer in the same conference. The teams met in the 1960 Sun Bowl. Thereafter, NMSU went 57 years without a bowl invitation.
Over the years, newspapers shortened the team names to fit available space in headlines. Instead of calling them the Utah State Aggies, it was often shortened to UtAgs. Meanwhile, New Mexico State went by the moniker NewMags.
Past UtAg-NewMag games have produced historic results. In 1972, USU drew 19 penalties, still a school record. USU once racked up 619 offensive yards. USU coach Matt Wells had one of his better days as a quarterback, passing for 247 yards and three touchdowns in 1994.
Last year’s bowl was historic, too, in the way Eberle short-circuited. He made a field goal to start, then missed, made, missed, missed, missed.
“I had food poisoning — throwing up the night before. I got an hour’s sleep,” he said at this year’s spring game.
There was righteousness to NMSU’s win in Arizona, simply because it mattered so much. Approximately 25,000 fans bought tickets for their team’s first bowl appearance since Eisenhower was president. This didn’t sit well with USU, which leads the all-time series history, 31-8. At one point in the series, Utah State won 19 straight.
This season dawned optimistically for the Big Blue, which came close to upsetting No. 11 Michigan State last week. USU hasn’t looked much like last season’s 6-7 team. In fact, the UtAgs came off as a slightly ticked-off bunch. Meanwhile, the NewMags looked like their old, bowl-forsaken selves.
On Saturday Eberle made a pair of first quarter field goals for the quick lead, which included a 51-yard kick.
His charge on the record books was up and running.
“That kid took a lot of grief since we played that (December) game,” Wells said, calling it “the only substandard game he’s had since he’s been here.”
Comeback stories are everywhere in sports. But record-smashing comeback stories have a place all for themselves.