It was nothing short of an incredible play.
With Utah State clinging to a 34-33 lead over UConn Saturday afternoon at Pratt & Whitney Stadium — with less a minute remaining in regulation — all that stood between the Aggies and Huskies and overtime was a measly extra point.
It was nearly a given that UConn would convert it. After all, 93.8% of extra point tries in college football are successfully converted and Huskies place kicker Joe McFadden had already successfully converted two field goals and three extra points on the day.
The Aggies’ first win over an FBS opponent would have to wait until overtime.
Except it didn’t. USU safety Ike Larsen made sure of that.
Larsen blocked McFadden’s extra point attempt — it was the Cache Valley native’s second blocked kick this season and the fifth of his Aggie career — and after a failed onside kick try by UConn victory was Utah State’s.
It was incredible, memorable and dumbfounding, all at once.
— Nick Paremski (@CoachP_UtahSt) September 30, 2023
“The whole game we kind of figured out that the right side was their weak link on the block, field goals and PAT and so when the time was right we called a block,” Larsen said. “It just happened and was a perfect scheme.”
And now the Aggies are 2-3 on the year, with a victory over an FBS opponent finally under their belts, something they’d been working for in vain since the season opener at Iowa.
Moreover, USU finally pulled off a major comeback, after falling behind 17-0 in the first half, and did so largely without starting quarterback McCae Hillstead who left early in the third quarter with a concussion and did not return.
It was a game that showed the Aggies’ heart once again, as well as the team’s ability to adjust and persevere through adversity. And it finally illustrated that Utah State can indeed make the plays that are needed in the end to be victorious.
“You’ve got to give our guys credit,” Utah State head coach Blake Anderson said, “for not quitting and just continuing to fight. Overcoming turnovers and how the game was going to claw our way back into it yet again and this time finished.”
And yet the struggles that USU had against winless UConn were also concerning for Anderson, a point he made early and often following the victory, especially in light of the fact that his Utah State teams have now won 13 games in which they’ve trailed and are 9-1 in one score games.
“I don’t like any of those stats,” Anderson said. “... That means we are really really struggling early in games as everybody knows. To be very blunt, they (UConn) were much bigger and much more physical than us. That is a common theme that we have to address through recruiting and development, but it was extremely hard to move these guys early and it was extremely hard to stop them throughout the course of the game running the ball with as big and as physical as they are and the nature of where they’re at and how they’re able to recruit.
“We’ll keep addressing those issues as best we can and try to alleviate those problems and find a way to get out in front early, but but that is how we are built right now. And it’s the nature of our schedule, the big physical football teams that we are playing. We have to find a way to win and that’s exactly what we did. It took everybody. It’s a win. It’s a win. I would say it’s an ugly win, but it’s a win and right now we will take it any way we can get it.”
Anderson isn’t wrong about the less than glamorous nature of the victory.
UConn isn’t close to being an elite team at 0-5 on the year, but the Huskies still managed to rack up 476 yards of offense against the Aggies, with 200 or more yards on the ground and through the air.
UConn committed nine penalties for nearly 100 yards and still managed to score 33 points, get 27 first downs, average six yards per play and nearly double USU in time of possession.
The Huskies also won the turnover battle 2-1, despite fumbling the ball five times — miscues the Aggies failed to capitalize on.
— Mountain West (@MountainWest) September 30, 2023
UConn QB Ta’Quan Roberson, at times, looked like an elite player, throwing for 258 yards and two touchdowns, while Huskies’ running back Victor Rosa nearly rushed for 100 yards while averaging six yards a carry.
Put simply, Utah State wasn’t good against UConn, the Aggies were just better the Huskies.
It wasn’t all ugly, though.
Cooper Legas was nearly flawless in his return to action.
The former Utah State starting quarterback — benched early against Air Force — was instrumental in the comeback victory and finished with 204 yards passing and three touchdowns, completing 11 of 13 passes and holding a QB rating of 292.6.
“Super proud of Cooper Legas being able to come in the way that he did,” Anderson said. “We talked about this a couple of weeks ago, that at some point this season we were going to need him to come off the bench and be ready and he was. He did a great job.”
Legas’ connection with wide receiver Jalen Royals was particularly encouraging, both because it showed Legas taking what the defense made available to him — UConn spent most the game with both a cornerback and safety eyeing USU’s leading receiver Terrell Vaughn — but also made good on potential teased by Royals since he arrived in Logan.
Royals finished the game with seven receptions for 185 yards and three touchdowns, including long scores of 71 and 52 yards.
“What Jalen did today doesn’t surprise any of us that were on the plane out here,” Anderson said. “We’ve been seeing that all spring, all summer and all fall camp. We’ve always felt like balance is being able to push the ball where it needs to go on the field the we trust all of our guys.”
For Royals, his breakout game was validating. It confirmed all the work he has put in.
“It was a good day,” Royals said. “I practice all that, all the time. Coach Cefalo and coach Anderson believe in me and they just gave me the green light and I just made the most of it.”
There were also strong performances on the defensive side of ball, courtesy of Larsen of course, but also linebackers MJ Tafisi and Anthony Switzer, as well as safety Devin Dye and defensive end Cian Slone.
Throw in some injury woes along the offensive line — Anderson noted that a lot of players saw significant time Saturday in the trenches that hadn’t really played much earlier this season and realistically weren’t supposed to — and the fact that as much went right for Utah State as did was notable.
“We just physically struggled with the matchup up front,” Anderson said. “... We had to chip away at the run game. It wasn’t pretty at any point but at least it was enough.”
For this week at least. Now the Aggies have to prepare to host Colorado State and begin Mountain West Conference play in earnest. But they will do so with some positive momentum thanks to a thrilling, if ugly win.