The 21,000 Aggie fans who showed up to support USU (5-4, 4-1 MWC) against Hawaii (0-8, 0-6 MWC) Saturday afternoon were fewer than those in the sold-out games against BYU and Boise St. last month, but still showed a degree of confidence in their team, which has struggled without star quarterback Chuckie Keeton. The Aggies came into this game with a mission to show that they still believe in their goals for the season, including winning a conference championship, even without Keeton at the helm. The general sentiment among those fans present after watching the USU team in action was evident: mission accomplished.
Utah State took care of business against an outgunned Hawaii on Saturday afternoon, scoring quickly and frequently on their way to a 47-10 thrashing in front of a supportive home crowd. Freshman quarterback Darrell Garretson started the scoring fest with an 11 yard toss to Bruce "JoJo" Natson five minutes into the game, and the Aggies didn't take their foot off the pedal till the fourth quarter. Garretson had two more touchdown throws, a 30-yard pass to Travis Reynolds in the third quarter and a 44 yarder to a ridiculously wide open Wyatt Houston in the fourth, along with 370 yards through the air in an overall impressive outing. Despite one interception to blacken his record for the day, Garretson seemed very much in control of the game, completing 68 percent of his passes (28 of 41 throws) and showing poise and confidence throughout.
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Joey DeMartino had another impressive performance as well. He was expected to take a backseat role to Joe Hill this year, but with Hill done for the season with an ACL tear, Joey has taken the majority of the reps for the injury-plagued Aggies. Utah State running backs have been iconic for the Aggies the past few seasons. While DeMartino doesn't have the top speed of Kerwynn Williams or the power of Robert Turbin, he has been quite efficient for the Aggies this year, averaging 78 yards per game and nearly 7 yards per carry. He ran for just over 100 yards and a touchdown on 20 run attempts last night, topping the century mark for the fourth time this year. Seven players ran the ball for the Aggies on the night, and the team totaled 163 yards rushing. The ground game was a vital part of the Aggies clock management for the game, which helped them secure a nearly 20 minute advantage in the time of possession battle.
The game was over less than a minute into the second quarter, as DeMartino's 4 yard rushing touchdown proved to be the winning score for the Aggies. What's scary is that the outcome could easily have been more lopsided. Due to a few dropped catches and overthrown balls, the Aggies scored as many field goals as offensive touchdowns, including a 52-yard from freshman kicker Jake Thompson, younger brother to senior kicker Josh Thompson. Nick Diaz and Jake Thompson teamed up for a perfect record on field goal attempts, Diaz adding three of his own, and Diaz was also 5 for 5 on PAT attempts. For a team that has struggled with getting the help they need from special teams (including missed opportunities against Utah and USC earlier this year), the kickers' performance was certainly a very positive note for the game.
Despite impressive performances from both the offense and the special teams, it was the defense that won the day for the home team. The defense excelled for the Ags, who held their opponent to ten points for the second game in a row. One area of particular excellence was in turnovers: Kyler Fackrell, Frankie Sutera, and Brian Suite all intercepted Hawaii QB Sean Schroeder, and the three combined for 160 yards and a touchdown.
Fackrell's came at the most opportune time, just moments after Tavita Woodard came up with Garretson's only interception of the night. Garretson recovered enough to tackle Woodard at the Aggies' own 4 yard line, the Aggies kept their cool, and Kyler picked off Schroeder's third down pass at the one yard line, taking it back 99 yards to hit the pay dirt. The front seven manhandled the Hawaii O-line all night, allowing only 59 rushing yards, stopping the Rainbow Warriors 12 of 18 times on third down, and halting Hawaii twice on attempts to convert a fourth down.
The win keeps USU in contention to represent the Mountain Division in the conference championship on December 7th. They're tied with Boise State with a 4-1 conference record, but the Broncos hold the tie-breaker with the head-to-head win three weeks ago. In order to leapfrog BSU, the Aggies need to win their final three games of the season against UNLV, Colorado State, and Wyoming, and they'll need Boise State to lose to Wyoming, San Diego State, or New Mexico in the remaining contests of the regular season. Boise, who is also left without their starting quarterback, defeated CSU last night, clearing one of the few obstacles left in their path to the championship game. Needless to say, there will be lots of (temporary) support in Logan for the Cowboys, Aztecs, and Lobos this month as the Aggies push to keep their championship hopes alive.
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