LOGAN—Blake Anderson and his Aggie football team did it again.
Utah State managed another double-digit comeback victory—this time a 48-24 win at home against North Dakota. The 2-0 start is USU’s first since 2012, and the first 2-0 start by a new Aggie head coach since Dick Romney in 1918.
“It stressed me out like crazy,” Anderson said of having to play from behind. “I would like to see a game where we just lead from the beginning and carry it, but maybe that is just not what we are.”
Wide receiver Derek Wright, finished with four catches for 73 yards and two touchdowns. The senior said the team has been able to take on a “don’t panic” attitude when trailing.
“Everybody believes that,” he said. “We can go out and fight. It’s a sixty-minute game.”
Aggie quarterback Logan Bonner completed 21 of 33 passes for 390 yards and four touchdowns in the win. Calvin Tyler Jr. led all Aggie rushers with 14 rushes for 72 yards and a touchdown.
“He did what he is supposed to do,” Anderson said of his quarterback.
North Dakota was looking to follow up its season-opening win against Idaho State with a win on the road against a bigger program. After the first quarter, the Hawks were well on their way. UND scored three touchdowns on its first three drives to take a 21-7 first-quarter lead, but it didn’t hold. Utah State outscored the visiting FCS school 41-3 through the remaining three quarters.
“They had a game plan ready to go and executed flawlessly in the first quarter,” Anderson said. “We had a couple of mishaps that made it tough to get started. I loved the way our guys fought back.”
The game got off to a late start, for more reasons than one. First it was the weather. Nearby lightning strikes pushed kickoff back from 7 p.m. to 8:20 p.m. Then, just as the players took the field, the lights cut out.
“I thought this was the coolest entrance ever,” Anderson said. “I didn’t know it was an accident and it would take twenty minutes for the lights to come back on.”
Kickoff happened at 8:29 p.m. Once things finally got moving, UND quarterback Tommy Schuster got going. The sophomore completed nine passes for 144 yards in his team’s first three drives. The Hawks converted all four third-down conversion attempts during the stretch.
Justin Rice, who led USU with nine tackles and two interceptions, said the defense started “kind of sluggish.”
“That’s not the brand of football we play, “ he said. “They kind of threw the whole playbook at us. We weren’t very disciplined with our eyes, but we knew if we settled down and trust the process, trust the discipline, we knew that things would start going our way.”
The Aggie offense was only able to score one first-quarter touchdown to UND’s three. It came on a 54-yard pass to wide receiver Brandon Bowling on the opening drive. Connor Coles chipped into the deficit near the start of the second quarter with a 26-yard field goal, finishing a 12-play, 66-yard drive.
The Aggie defense held UND scoreless in the second, and the Aggie offense turned the stops into a pair of scores. First, Coles picked up his second field goal of the game—a 37-yarder. Then, on the following drive, USU went 82-yards on eight plays with a four-yard Wright touchdown reception, narrowing the gap to 21-20 at the half.
“When we finally got that stop and the offense was able to go down and score points, everything changed,” Anderson said.
Bonner’s pass was picked off on the opening drive of the second half, giving UND a short 29-yard field. The Hawks scored a 29-yard field goal to extend the lead to four, but it didn’t take long for USU to fire back. Deven Thomkins caught a pass near the line of scrimmage and took it 75 yards down the sideline to give the Ags a 27-24 lead—the team’s first of the game.
“Finally getting the lead was a big breath of fresh air,” Anderson said. “It was in question for way too long.”
“That touchdown by DT was electric,” Wright said. “That dude can fly. What some people might not have noticed about that play was the blocking by Justin (McGriff). I mean, he just went and demolished the corner. Gave DT the sideline.”
That lead was extended with 9:44 left in the game on a fourth-down, two-yard Tyler touchdown run, and again at the 7:06 mark, on a 41-yard pass to Wright, putting USU up 41-24.
“It’s been fun having a bigger role in our offense and team this year,” Wright said, “and being able to help out more.”
Leading up to Friday’s game, Anderson told the media he hadn’t made a choice as to who the team’s No. 1 quarterback would be moving forward. Bonner and junior Andrew Peasley took turns at the spot against Washington State, but on Friday night it was Bonner who started and got the vast majority of the snaps. Peasley took the field in three drives and scored on a 59-yard rush in the fourth.
“Obviously he wants to be playing more than he is,” Anderson said of Peasley. “He goes in and he busts one for a touchdown. Nothing made my heart feel any better tonight than that. That is what we’re about.”
Utah State will start conference play Saturday, Sept. 18 in Colorado Springs against Air Force. The Falcons are 1-0 with a 35-14 over Lafayette. The Falcons will first play Navy on Saturday, Sept. 11.