EAST LANSING, Mich. (ABC4 Sports) – Utah State put up quite a fight in their season-opener Friday night against #11 Michigan State.
But the Spartans were able to pull it out with a late interception, holding off the upstart Aggies, 38-31.
“We will take some confidence going out of this game,” head coach Matt Wells said. “That’s a very good football team and a program that’s been consistent for a long, long time. “To be able to play the way we did and have a chance to win at the end, I’m proud of our guys. Don’t misconstrue that to say that that was a moral victory or anything like that.”
Jordan Love passed for a career-high 319 yards, while Darwin Thompson scored the first two rushing touchdowns of his Utah State career to help the Aggies give No. 11 Michigan State everything it could handle.
Thompson’s second touchdown of the night, a 1-yard run with 5:05 remaining in the game, gave Utah State a 31-30 lead.
However, the Spartans took the ensuing kickoff and marched it down the field, getting a 13-yard touchdown run from Connor Heyward on a third-and-2 play to make it 36-31. Michigan State successfully completed the two-point conversion on a pass from Brian Lewerke to Felton Davis to give the hosts their final margin of victory with 2:00 showing on the clock.
It appeared as if Utah State (0-1, 0-0 Mountain West) would return the favor, though, as the Aggies moved the ball across midfield and had it second-and-1 from the MSU 46. Unfortunately for USU, that is as far as it would get. Junior tight end Dax Raymond couldn’t quite haul in Love’s second-down pass and on third down, the Spartans’ Joe Bachie sealed the game with an interception after batting the ball at the line of scrimmage.
“We were playing to win,” Wells said. “If we would have scored, we would have gone for 2.”
But Utah State never got the chance.
Raymond finished the game with a game-high-tying seven receptions – also a career best – for a career-high 76 yards. Love completed a career-high 29 passes (on a career-high-tying 44 attempts) to 10 different receivers on the night.
David Woodward led Utah State’s defensive effort with a career-high 16 tackles, to go along with two quarterback hurries. It is the most tackles by an Aggie since Nick Vigil had 20 against Air Force.
The Aggies also forced two turnovers, including a 40-yard interception return by senior safety Gaje Ferguson that pulled USU to within 27-24 with 1:41 left in the third quarter.
Lewerke completed 22-of-33 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked three times on the night, including twice by Galeai and once by Rocquemore.
Utah State took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run from Love, to give the Aggies a 7-0 lead with 12:58 to go in the first quarter.
A couple of field goals by Michigan State’s Matt Coghlin pulled the hosts to within 7-6 before they took their first lead of the night at 13-7 on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Lewerke to Cody White with 10:49 left in the opening half.
Utah State regained the lead on the ensuing possession after Thompson scored the first of his two touchdowns, this one from two yards out. The Aggies marched 72 yards on nine plays, highlighted by a pair of catches – an 18-yarder and a 25-yarder – from Raymond.
The Spartans (1-0, 0-0 Big Ten) led 20-14 at the break, though, when they answered Utah State’s touchdown with one of their own. Lewerke threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Davis with just 28 seconds remaining in the half.
Michigan State parlayed that touchdown into another seven points as the Spartans took the second-half kickoff and marched 81 yards in 10 plays, to open their largest lead of the night at 27-14 courtesy of a 17-yard touchdown run by Heyward.
The Aggies weren’t done, though, as they scored 10 points in just a 14-second span. Junior placekicker Dominik Eberle kicked a 40-yard field goal to pare the deficit to 27-17. On the very first play of Michigan State’s ensuing possession, Ferguson recorded his pick-six to silence the crowd of 73,114.
Utah State returns home to take on New Mexico State on September 8th.