Aggies stunned by Wolf Pack on late TD
RENO, Nevada — Brutal.
That might be the best way to describe Utah State’s fourth straight loss — the program’s first four-game skid since 2008 — on the gridiron.
Nevada quarterback Ty Gangi scampered into the end zone from 7 yards out on fourth-and-goal with five seconds remaining in the game, as the Wolf Pack rallied from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to stun the Aggies, 38-37, in a mostly empty Mackay Stadium on a blustery Saturday afternoon.
The Aggies outgained the Wolf Pack by nearly 200 yards, 523-341, in a matchup of reeling Mountain West football teams, but a couple of huge mistakes led to USU’s downfall.
“It’s hard to wrap your head around a loss like this, because of the way it happened,” USU head coach Matt Wells said. “When you dominated a game and you don’t make a couple of plays, or a couple of stops (it hurts).”
Despite some missed opportunities and miscues, the Aggies (3-8, 1-7 MW) appeared to be in control when Dominik Eberle booted his third field goal of the contest, from 22 yards out, to give the visitors a 37-24 advantage with 7:50 remaining.
USU was about to get the pigskin back after a three-and-out series by the hosts, but Andrew Rodriguez muffed a punt into the end zone and Nevada’s Elijah Mitchell pounced on it to pare the deficit to 37-31 with 7:19 remaining. It was the first time this season Rodriguez has even bobbled a punt, let alone lost control of one.
“That’s a kid that cares,” Wells said of Rodriguez. “He gives his heart and soul to this team, and it was an unfortunate error on that play.”
The Wolf Pack (4-7, 2-5) nearly won the game in the final two minutes of play, but Marquan Ellison and a host of Aggies stopped star Nevada tailback James Butler on a fourth-and-4 screen pass at the USU 3-yard line, two yards shy of the first down. However, USU was stopped on three consecutive running plays, giving the Nevada new life with 1:37 remaining in the tilt. The Aggies were only able to take 20 seconds off the clock on that possession.
Nevada then marched down the field, aided by a couple of USU penalties, and Gangi provided the heroics with his fourth-down scramble. Spencer Pettit booted the extra point to give the Wolf Pack the win.
The wind was a factor early in the game, and it was at USU’s expense. The Aggies received the opening kickoff and marched 51 yards to the Nevada 24. The visitors elected to attempt a 43-yard field goal on fourth-and-two, but Brock Warren’s kick was well short.
Later in the first quarter, Nevada took advantage of an 11-yard Aaron Dalton punt into the wind. The poor punt, which took a terrible bounce for the visitors, was compounded by a 10-yard USU penalty, giving the hosts the ball at the Aggie 47. The Wolf Pack capitalized on their superb field position with a 35-yard Pettit field goal.
The Aggies didn’t need much time to bounce back, though. Back-to-back 17-yard plays by Wyatt Houston and Gerold Bright put USU in Nevada territory, and Kent Myers finished off the six-play, 79-yard drive with a 37-yard read-option touchdown jaunt with 2:29 left in the opening quarter.
The Aggies increased their lead to 10-3 less than six minutes into the second quarter on a 43-yard field goal by Eberle with the wind — the sophomore’s first career FG. The 3-pointer was set up by a pair of 19-yard runs by Tonny Lindsey, plus a clutch catch and open field maneuvering by Bright to put USU back into field goal range after back-to-back negative-yardage plays.
USU continued to gash Nevada’s porous rush defense — the Wolf Pack have allowed nearly 300 yards per game on the ground in 2016 — during its next possession. A 19-yard run by Rayshad Lewis was followed by a 2-yard keeper to paydirt by Myers on the ensuing play.
To their credit, the Wolf Pack responded with a 10-play, 81-yard touchdown march, which was capped off by a 1-yard reception by Wyatt Demps in the final minute of the first half. Two trick plays and a 27-yard screen pass to Butler highlighted that Nevada possession.
USU outgained Nevada 264-138 in the first half, but only had a 17-10 advantage to show for it. The Aggies racked up 185 rushing yards on 24 attempts in the half.
The back-and-forth action at the end of the first half continued in the third quarter. On USU’s first offensive play of the quarter, Lewis showcased his speed and scored from 59 yards out on a fly sweep play.
Nevada bounced right back with an 11-play drive, which culminated in a 7-yard TD run by Jaxson Kincaide, who eluded a couple of would-be tacklers.
The Aggies proceeded to march 62 yards on their next possession, but the drive stalled at the Nevada 3. USU settled for a 20-yard field goal by Eberle.
Utah State advanced the pigskin into Nevada territory on its next possession, but Myers was intercepted by Jaden Sawyer, who sprinted 43 yards to the Aggie 20. The Wolf Pack needed just two plays to trim the deficit to 27-24 on a memorable 15-yard Butler scamper.
The Aggies proceeded to brush off the costly mistake and score 10 straight points. Lindsey exploded through a big hole up the middle for a career-long 68-yard TD early in the fourth quarter, and then Eberle made it a 13-point USU advantage less than four minutes later.
Eberle’s third FG was set up by USU nose guard Mohelika Uasike, who rumbled 30 yards to the Nevada 13 after scooping up a fumble in midair caused by defensive end Ricky Ali’ifua, who lit up Gangi on an attempted pass.
The Aggies amassed 396 rushing yards on 50 attempts — the 12th-most yardage on the ground for a single game in program history. Lindsey finished with a career-best 168 yards, while Myers added 90 and Lewis, 83.
“The O-line did a great job,” Lindsey said. “They were able to make holes for me, and I had a lot of one-on-one matchups, and I was fortunate to win those.”
For the third game in a row, linebacker Anthony Williams led the Aggies in tackles, this time with 11. Devin Centers chipped in with 10 stops, while Brock Carmen and Derek Larsen combined for 15. USU’s defense, quite frankly, was solid for most of the game.
“It feels pretty good, but at the end of the day we didn’t make enough plays to get the W, so it was just unfortunate,” Ellison said.