Marcel Jensen blocked Utah State’s Josh Thompson’s 31-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter. Fresno State marched 57 yards on seven plays setting up the biggest play of the game, and possibly the turning point of the season for the young team.
Trailing 21-17, early in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs faced a huge 3rd-and-14.
Derek Carr was looking for running back Robbie Rouse on a screen – the same play Fresno State used in the second quarter to convert a key 3rd-and-10. Utah State keyed on it, and Carr went to his second option – wide receiver Jalen Saunders running a middle screen.
“I couldn’t find him at first, threw a little side arm to him and he did the rest,” said Carr.
“I was expecting the ball. [Carr] didn’t catch my eye the first time but I was sitting and waiting,” said Saunders.
Saunders caught the screen at the 26 on the near side of the field. He took it to the 23 before he saw the middle clogged with linebackers and safeties. He bounced back it back, raced across the field, breaking three tackles, before the turning the corner at the 20 on the far side of the field running untouched down the sideline to the end zone.
“I was just trying to get as much yards as I can,” said Saunders. “I made the first guy miss, then the second guy and I went on from there…”
The touchdown gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the game with 11:54 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“I think after I scored, the momentum shifted to us,” added Saunders.
The Fresno State defense, which held the Aggies scoreless the final 41:24 of the game, fed off Saunders’ score. USU quarterback Chuckie Keeton missed on his next two throws before being sacked by Tristan Okpalaugo on third down. The ball was knocked loose and recovered by Jeremiah Toma at the USU 23. Seven plays later, Rouse, who finished with 140 yards on 24 carries, scored from nine-yards out capping the ‘Dogs 17 unanswered second half points and comeback win.
“Last week, we were probably at our lowest point and I was really proud of the way they responded,” said Fresno State head coach Pat Hill.
Utah State started fast scoring three touchdowns on its first four possessions.
Keeton hit Michael Smith on a screen that went 47 yards for a touchdown less than three minutes into the game.
The Bulldogs responded driving to the USU six-yard line before Richard Helepiko and Carr muffed the center exchange. The Aggies would drive 94 yards on just four plays as Robert Turbin rambled the last 59, breaking two tackles, for the touchdown run.
Carr would answer in less than two minutes leading the ‘Dogs on a five-play, 84-yard drive culminating in a 23-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Burse.
The Aggies continued their first quarter dominance driving 64 yards on their next possession to the Bulldog 17. However, Thompson would miss a field goal from 35 yards out. Utah State amassed 235 yards of total offense in the initial period.
Fresno State marched down the field to tie up the game after Carr scored from one-yard out on a quarterback sneak with 12:07 remaining in the first half.
The Bulldogs, who played well on special teams, made their only gaffe on the night on the ensuing kickoff. USU’s Kerwynn Williams returned it 52 yards to the Bulldog 48. The Aggies scored two players later on an option pitch to Smith, who ran run untouched for a 47-yard touchdown with 11:24 remaining in the first half.
Kevin Goessling broke out of his mini-funk hitting a 39-yard field goal in the third quarter cutting the Aggies lead to 21-17. It was his first successful attempt since making two at Idaho on Sept. 24.
Carr finished with 248 yards hitting 23-of-39 passing. He also rushed for a career-high 39 yards.
The Bulldogs improve to 3-4 on the season, 2-0 in WAC play. They travel to Nevada next week in a battle for first place in the conference on the line.
Defensive end Matt Akers was ejected in the second half. A Utah State player ripped his helmet off after the play and Akers swung at the players’ helmet. Both players were called for personal fouls but only Akers was ejected.
Chuckie Keeton passed for 140 yards and one touchdown on 7-of-9 passing in the first quarter. But he was just 8-of-22 for 54 yards in the final three quarters.
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