LOGAN, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – For the second time in as many outings, Utah State dug itself a huge first-quarter hole and could not recover.
The Aggies went down fighting, though.
James Madison scored the first four times it touched the ball – three touchdowns and a field goal – but had to hold on for dear life in a thrilling 45-38 win over Utah State in front of 19,994 fans Saturday night on Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium.
The Aggies (1-3) trailed 24-0 just nine second into the second quarter and 38-17 at halftime, but fought all the way back to tie it up at 38-all with 11:01 to go in the game after junior wide receiver Micah Davis caught a career-long 76-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback McCae Hillstead.
In his first-career start for the Aggies, Hillstead was 25-of-47 for 399 yards – the most in school history by a freshman – and four touchdowns. However, he also threw three interceptions for Utah State, which found itself down 29-0 with 11:15 to go in the second quarter a week ago at Air Force, but outscored the Falcons 21-10 the rest of the way.
Terrell Vaughn was Hillstead’s favorite target on the night. The senior wide receiver caught a game-best 10 passes for 124 yards and a career-high-tying two touchdowns.
Both of Vaughn’s touchdown receptions were in the third quarter, a 20- and 6-yarder, respectively, to pull the Aggies within 38-31.
Jordan McCloud was 23-of-34 for 364 yards and four touchdowns, to go along with two interceptions, for the Dukes (4-0), who finished with a dozen more yards (512-500) than the Aggies.
McCloud’s final touchdown pass of the night was a 74-yarder to Reggie Brown to give JMU the lead back for good, 45-38 with 5:52 to go in the fourth quarter.
However, Utah State got the ball back three more times before the clock hit zero. Unfortunately for the Aggies, they turned it over on downs once and Hillstead was intercepted twice – the second of which went off the hands of Colby Bowman following a hard hit by a JMU defender.
Bowman finished with two receptions for 78 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.
Down by 24 early in the second quarter, Utah State started chipping away at the deficit when it successfully executed a fake field goal. Elliott Nimrod initially lined up for a 35-yard field goal, but instead of going through with the kick, he took the pitch from senior punter/holder Stephen Kotsanlee and ran 18 yards for the touchdown.
The touchdown was set up by sophomore safety Devin Dye’s first-career interception. It was one of five turnovers the Aggies had on the night as junior safety Anthony Switzer had both a pick and a fumble recovery, while junior defensive end Blaine Spires also recovered a fumble.
Offensive lineman Wade Meacham also recovered a fumble after James Madison’s Jarius Reimonenq intercepted a pass, but lost the ball on the return courtesy of a hit by junior offensive lineman Cole Motes.
Ike Larsen finished with a game-high 10 tackles, including 1.0 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble. Besides his interception, Dye added a career-best nine tackles, including 0.5 tackles for loss and one pass breakup.
Davon Booth led all rushers in the game with a career-high 103 yards on 21 carries for the Aggies, who had negative 22 yards and zero first downs after the first quarter.
Utah State is back in action on Saturday, Sept. 30, when the Aggies conclude non-conference on the road against UConn (0-4).