LOGAN, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – Utah State was in desperate need of some positive news. If the Aggies would have lost to winless New Mexico and fallen to 0-5 on the season, there may have been no return.
But Andrew Peasley came to the rescue, leading the Aggies to a dominant second half and a 41-27 victory over the Lobos in Utah State’s first Thanksgiving Day game in 47 years.
“It’s hard to win football games, but any time you can do it as a team in all three phases – offense, defense and special teams – it’s a great feeling,” said interim USU head coach Frank Maile, who was doused by water and mobbed by his team in the locker room after the game. “I’m proud of our guys. They continue to stay focused and stay hungry. The preparation was awesome this week; they did a great job staying locked in with all the ups and downs that we faced. I couldn’t be prouder to be in charge of this team right now. I love these guys and I’m grateful I’m in charge of them for the time being.”
Peasley, who came out of quarantine this past Sunday after testing positive for COVID-19, completed 14-of-21 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns – all to different receivers. He also led Utah State (1-4, 1-4 Mountain West) on the ground with 118 yards and the game-clinching 62-yard touchdown run with 4:03 left in the fourth quarter, as Utah State scored 35 second half points.
“I thought the offense came out driving the ball, just like we prepared for,” said Peasley, who replaced quarterback Jason Shelley, who was dismissed from the team two weeks ago for violating team rules. “It’s a really good feeling to be successful as a team, not just the offense, but everyone. A win feels really, really good.”
After trailing by six at the half, the Aggies took control of the contest with a stellar third-quarter performance, one in which they scored three times on offense, once on defense and blocked a punt.
Peasley’s first touchdown pass of the night was a beautiful 36-yarder to Justin McGriff that tied the score at 13-apiece with 12:20 left in the third. McGriff finished with four receptions for 99 yards, while Derek Wright also had four catches for 70 yards.
After the defense forced the Lobos (0-5, 0-5 MW) to go three-and-out on the ensuing possession, USU struck paydirt again when Peasley find Savon Scarver wide open for a 26-yard touchdown pass that put the hosts up for good, 20-13.
Linebacker Kina Maile – the nephew of Frank Maile – set up the Aggies’ next score when he blocked a punt by New Mexico’s Tyson Dyer. Three plays later, USU was in the end zone again when Peasley found senior tight end Carson Terrell for a 25-yard touchdown pass, making it 27-13.
On the Lobos’ very next series, Maile found the end zone himself on a scoop-and-score. Outside linebacker Nick Heninger, a grad transfer from Utah, sacked UNM quarterback Trae Hall on a third-and-14 play from the visitor’s 21-yard line, forcing the signal caller to fumble in the process. Maile scooped up the loose pigskin and rumbled 16 yards into the end zone to give the hosts an insurmountable 34-13 lead with 2:50 left in the third.
“It’s a huge burden off our shoulders just to get the first win and get us on the right path,” Kina Maile said. “We’ve been itching to get that zero off our record, and we finally got it. It feels wonderful, and I know we’ll celebrate this all weekend. We love this feeling.”
Defensively, Shaq Bond led the Aggies with 10 tackles – all of the solo variety – including 2.0 tackles for loss, while sophomore inside linebacker AJ Vongphachanh added nine stops, including 1.0 tackles for loss and 1.0 sacks. Heninger finished the night with eight tackles, including 3.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and one quarterback hurry.
New Mexico cut it to 34-27 with 7:08 to go in the game following a 28-yard touchdown pass from Bryson Carroll to Andre Erickson, and a 1-yard touchdown run by Bobby Cole.
But, Peasley cemented the Aggies’ first win of the season when he eluded what would have been a sack on third down and scrambled out of the pocket, eventually making his way to the end zone for his 62-yard score.
Luke Marion put the exclamation point on the win when he intercepted a pass by UNM’s Connor Genal with less than three minutes to go. The Aggies ran the clock out from there.
All of Utah State’s points in the first half came off the foot of junior placekicker Connor Coles, who made both of his field goal attempts, one from 27 yards and the other from 44, giving the Aggies leads of 3-0 and 6-3, respectively.
Donovan Murphree also kicked field goals of 31 and 39 yards, respectively, while Bobby Cole scored on a 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter for the visitors. UNM led 13-6 at the break.
This marked just the fifth time Utah State has hosted a game on Thanksgiving, and the first since 1972, when the Aggies beat Weber State 20-16. Prior to Thursday, the last time USU played on turkey day was in 1973.
All-time, Utah State is 11-28-3 on Thanksgiving.
No fans, other than family members of the players from both teams, were allowed to attend the game.
Utah State returns to action on Thursday, Dec. 3, when the Aggies conclude the home portion of their schedule against Air Force at 7:30 p.m.