LOGAN, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – Utah State let North Dakota hang around for three quarters Friday night in the Aggies home opener at Maverik Stadium.
Then they put their foot on the gas and pulled away.
Utah State outscored the Fighting Hawks in the fourth quarter, 21-0, in route to a 48-24 victory to improve to 2-0 on the season.
Logan Bonner passed for 390 yards and four touchdowns, including two to Derek Wright, while Deven Thompkins hauled in eight passes for 172 yards and a touchdown.
The Aggies gave first-year head coach Blake Anderson his second win in as many outings. He is just the fourth head coach in school history to win his first two games at the helm and the first since E. Lowell “Dick” Romney in 1919.
“We were very frustrated with how we started,” Anderson said. “I have a ton of respect for the team we played, and we talked about it all week. Everyone looks at an FCS program and assumes it will be a game that should go differently, but they are very well-coached, they aren’t afraid of the moment, they played deep into the playoffs last year and played well.
The game was delayed more than an hour due to lightning. Once the teams were given the okay to play, the stadium lights went out, causing another short delay.
And if that wasn’t enough adversity for Utah State to face, North Dakota came out swinging by scoring touchdowns on its first three possessions to open a 21-7 lead with 1:21 remaining in the opening quarter.
“When you watch them, you can tell they execute at a very high level,” Anderson said about North Dakota, an FCS team. “They had a game plan ready to go and executed flawlessly in the first quarter. We had a couple of mishaps that made it tough to get started. I loved the way our guys fought back. That’s two weeks in a row where things were not going perfect and guys didn’t get down on the sidelines.”
Just like they did a week ago in upsetting heavily-favored Washington State on the road, the Aggies didn’t panic when faced with a double-digit deficit.
“The defense came out sluggish in the first quarter, but that’s not the brand of football we play,” said linebacker Justin Rice, who had two interceptions and nine tackles for USU. “They threw the whole playbook at us, and we weren’t very disciplined with our eyes. We knew if we settled down, trusted the process and our discipline, things would go our way. That’s what we did the rest of the game, stayed true to our eyes and what we believe in, which is running to the ball, having good discipline and playing our assignments. We started playing pretty well for the last three quarters.”
Down by two touchdowns, Utah State pared the deficit to 21-20 at the half courtesy of a pair of field goals from senior placekicker Connor Coles, and Wright’s first TD reception of the night, a 4-yarder from Bonner.
The Aggies took their first lead of the night, one in which they would not relinquish, on a 75-yard touchdown pass from Bonner to Thompkins, who was the beneficiary of a key block from wide receiver Justin McGriff to help spring the speedster. That made it 27-24 with just under 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Bonner and the Aggies poured it on from there as the signal caller threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to Wright, while junior running back Calvin Tyler Jr. scored on a 2-yard run on fourth down and junior quarterback Andrew Peasley added a 59-yard TD run of his own.
“We were able to stick together and not struggle, said Wright, who caught four passes for 73 yards on the night. “We played pretty well in the second half, and had some big, explosive plays. At the end of the day, our defense was able to keep getting stops and giving us the ball when we needed it. We played well, we just need to eliminate the sluggish parts of our game.”
Thompkins led all receivers in the game with eight catches for 172 yards, while graduate senior Brandon Bowling had six receptions for 118 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown pass from Bonner in the first quarter.
Utah State finished with 621 yards of total offense, including 404 through the air. Bonner was 21-of-33 for 390 yards.
The Fighting Hawks, who are ranked No. 9 in the Stats Perform FCS Top 25, finished with 439 yards of total offense, including nearly 200 in the first quarter alone. Quarterback Tommy Schuster was 29-of-43 for 348 yards and one touchdown, to go along with the two picks by Rice.
Utah State next opens Mountain West Conference play at Air Force on Saturday, Sept. 18.