LOGAN, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – In a showdown between the two most recent Mountain West champions, Utah State’s comeback bid fell short against Fresno State in a back-and-forth thriller Friday night.
Cooper Legas threw for 363 yards and three touchdowns for the Aggies, but his final pass of the night was intercepted at the Bulldogs’ 31-yard line with less than a minute to go, helping Fresno State preserve its 37-32 victory on Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium.
Rahsul Faison rushed for 75 yards on 12 carries, and his 24-yard touchdown run gave the Aggies (3-4, 1-2 MW) a 32-31 lead with 4:42 to go in the game.
The Bulldogs (6-1, 2-1 MW), who captured the MWC title in 2022, wasted little time regaining the lead as they marched 72 yards in just over two minutes. Malik Sherrod capped the five-play drive with an 11-yard touchdown run to give Fresno State 37-32 with 2:19 remaining.
“Clearly disappointed with the outcome, but not disappointed in the guys at all,” said USU head coach Blake Anderson. “That’s the most complete game we’ve played all year against a really, really good football team. We had opportunities to win it and didn’t. They made the plays they needed to.”
Sherrod rushed for 131 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries as the Bulldogs produced 461 yards of total offense.
Following Sherrod’s final TD of the night, the Aggies took over on their own 25 with 2:19 to go and eventually moved the ball to Fresno State’s 43 before Legas’ final pass was picked off.
Utah State, which captured the MWC title in 2021, racked up 568 yards of total offense, but turnovers and costly penalties (eight for 74 yards) proved damaging to the Aggies. Legas was 23 of 40 in the passing department.
Jalen Royals led Utah State with seven receptions for 125 yards and two touchdowns, while Terrell Vaughn caught seven passes for 119 yards and one TD.
“Probably my confidence,” said Royals when asked what has improved the most in his game. “It definitely has gone up. I think I’m one of the best receivers in this conference and maybe in college football. That’s probably the biggest thing right there.”
Fresno State’s Logan Fife was 22 of 39 passing for 291 yards and one touchdown. Nine different Bulldogs caught a pass on the night, led by Tre Watson, who had five receptions for 76 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, linebacker MJ Tafisi Jr. had both a game- and career-high 17 tackles, to go along with one pass breakup and one quarterback hurry. Anthony Switzer matched his career high with 10 tackles.
“They’re definitely up there,” Tafisi said when asked if Fresno State was the best offense they faced this season. “They did a good job at both the run and pass game. I’m extremely proud with the defense and how we played.”
Like they have done in all but one game this season, the Aggies fell behind in the first quarter. Only this time, it was only by a touchdown. In the previous four games, Utah State fell in first half deficits of 24-0, 29-0, 17-0 and 17-0.
Utah State was able to come back and win the last two games, but the Bulldogs were too explosive Friday night.
Sherrod scored on a 5-yard touchdown run to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead with 6:19 to go in the opening quarter. Utah State answered on the ensuing possession when Legas connected with Royals for a 29-yard touchdown to make it 7-apiece less than three minutes later.
The Aggies appeared to take a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter when Faison caught a screen pass from Legas and turned it into a 41-yard touchdown run. However, a personal foul called on Utah State negated the score and the home team eventually had to punt.
Watson made it 14-7 for Fresno State when he caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Fife on third-and-goal.
But just like they did the first time the Bulldogs reached the end zone, the Aggies answered with a score of their own on another Legas to Royals connection.
Legas drove Utah State 75 yards in less than two minutes, capped by a 52-yard TD pass to Royals to knot the game at 14-apiece, which is where it stood at halftime.
The Aggies took their first lead of the night early in the third quarter when Nimrod split the uprights from 37 yards out to make it 17-14. Fresno State scored touchdowns the next two times it touched the ball, however, to open a 28-17 lead with 4:51 left in the third.
Utah State pulled to within 28-25 just 31 seconds into the fourth when Vaughn caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Legas, followed by a successful two-point conversion on a run by Royals.
A 26-yard field goal by Dylan Lynch put Fresno State up 31-25 with 9:50 to go, setting up the wild finish.
“Bottom line is they made plays they had to to win and we just couldn’t deny it,” Anderson said. “Proud of the fact that we played four really hard quarters in all three phases. At times, we showed what we’re capable of and hope we can find it more consistently moving forward. It’s a tough loss because we had good opportunities and we just couldn’t execute when we needed to to finish it.”
Utah State is back in action on Saturday, Oct. 21, when the Aggies hit the road to take on San Jose State.