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AGGIES CAN’T KEEP IT CLOSE AGAINST ‘DOGS FRESNO STATE TRIUMPHS, 34-7

SHARE AGGIES CAN’T KEEP IT CLOSE AGAINST ‘DOGS FRESNO STATE TRIUMPHS, 34-7

On a day that seemed more suited for somewhere like, say, Fresno, Calif., Utah State had visions of an upset victory against the Big West bullies from Fresno State, Saturday at Romney Stadium.

Somehow the Aggies stayed within striking distance of the highly favored Bulldogs most of the warm afternoon, until it all came crashing down in the final 10 minutes. The Aggies just plain ran out of steam and Fresno scored a couple of insurance touchdowns to finally put the game away and win their sixth of the year and their 13th in a row over two years.The 34-7 final doesn't show that the Aggies still had a realistic chance early in the final quarter. On the other hand, maybe the Aggies were just fortunate to have still been close to the Bulldogs at that point. At least Fresno Coach Jim Sweeney felt fortunate to have come out of Logan with a win.

"I think that has to be one of the best games we've ever played on the road," said Sweeney. "Utah State played extremely well and were well-prepared for what we did on offense."

The final statistics show the Aggies were dominated by the Bulldogs (486 total yards to 265), but the Ags will always wonder if it might have turned out differently if not for a couple of key plays late in the second quarter when the score was 13-7.

The first was a fumble by the Aggies on the FSU 5-yard line. The next key play was made by a Fresno State player who used to live just a few yards from Romney Stadium as a child.

Let's go to Key Play No. 1 first.

With less than four minutes left in the first half, the Aggies were on the verge of taking the lead, following a fluke 56-yard pass completion from Kirk Johnson to Rod Moore, which had popped off the hands of Fresno's Marcus Pope. But on a handoff from Johnson to Brett Payne at the FSU 5, the ball came loose and Zack Rix recovered for FSU.

"I think it was more my fault than his," said Johnson. "We were trying to see how they would play a boot fake to see if we could come back with it the next play. It might have been a different ball game if we'd scored."

Then came Key Play No. 2, on third-and-8 from the Fresno 41.

Quarterback Mark Barsotti hit Stephen Shelley, who lived right across the street from the stadium as a child, on a short pass to the west sideline. Shelley then ran about 80 yards, 40 across and 40 down, as he broke several tackles, traveling clear across the field before being tackled on the USU 8-yard line on the east sideline. On the next play, Myron Jones scored his second touchdown of the game to make it 20-7 with just 1:05 left in the half. The score took most of the emotion away from the Aggie players and 13,137 homecoming fans.

"You can't make the kind of mistakes we made and expect to win," said USU Coach Chuck Shelton. "We had a chance to go ahead and didn't get it done. Fresno is too good of a football team - they're not going to let you have too many of those opportunites."

They didn't. Although the Aggies moved into Fresno territory three more times, they could never get close enough to even attempt a field goal.

The Aggie defense had its best day of the season statistically and perhaps best day overall, despite giving up 34 points. "Take away about four plays and it's about as good as our defense can play," said Shelton.

Utah State held Fresno under its rushing average, allowing 245 yards, but the balanced Bulldogs went to the air and finished with 241 yards. It marked the first time the Aggies had held an opponent under 500 yards this year.

The Aggies, last in the nation rushing for most of the last two years, couldn't do anything on the ground, ending up with minus 25 yards. The Ags did come up with 290 yards passing, but Johnson was only able to complete 14 of 40 passes, as he constantly overthrew his receivers.

After Fresno had taken an early 10-0 lead on a 6-yard run by Jones and a 27-yard Steve Loop field goal, the Aggies struck for their only score of the day on a 53-yard pass from Johnson to Patrick Newman. Newman was left all alone over the middle and after Johnson got the ball to him at about the 40, he turned up the right sideline and outraced two defenders to the goal line.

Loop had a 47-yard field goal try hit the upright, but came back with a 22-yarder to make it 13-7 with 5:36 left in the half. Then came the two key plays that sent Fresno onto victory.

Aaron Craver finished with 101 yards for Fresno, while Shelley was the leading receiver with five catches for 132 yards. Shelley's father, Phillip, played for Utah State in the early 1970s and the Shelleys lived in an apartment complex across from the stadium. Fresno Coach Jim Sweeney made Shelley an honorary captain for the game, even though he had caught just three passes on the year.

The Aggies still had a chance to win as the fourth quarter got under way. Early in the third quarter, Fresno had fumbled away a big opportunity at the USU 10 after another long Barsotti-to-Shelley pass of 39 yards had put the 'Dogs in scoring land.

The Aggies trailed 20-7 and the Aggie faithful had visions of a 21-20 victory with a couple of touchdowns. A diving catch by Tracy Jenkins was good for 31 yards and put the Aggies at the Fresno 38. But after a running play for one yard, two passes fell incomplete and the Aggies, just out of field goal range had to punt.

From there, Fresno took the ball and marched 80 yards in nine plays to put the game away on a 14-yard run by Barsotti at the 9:49 mark. Then a 38-yard punt return by Dwight Pickens set up the final score, a 1-yard run by Craver.