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In defeating Cal State-Fullerton 34-23 Saturday, the Utah State Aggies got at least a couple of monkeys off their backs.

For one thing, it was their first victory of 1989 after four terrible losses to big-time non-conference opponents. For another, it marked the first win for the Aggies over the Titans since 1982, or 3561 B.C. if you listen to Coach Chuck Shelton."I believe this is the first time in 5,550 years we've beaten Fullerton," said Shelton, ". . . so it's nice to go into a new era. All in all, I don't know how we could be any happier."

Although the Aggies gave up more than 500 yards for the fifth straight time this year (510), they reverted back to their bend-but-don't-break style of defense of the past couple of years. The Ags concentrated on running back Mike Pringle, the No. 1 all-purpose back in the country, holding him to a mere 35 yards rushing on 15 attempts. Quarterback Dan Speltz put up some big numbers, 42 of 52 completions for 481 yards, but he could only get his team in the end zone three times. Fullerton came up empty on four field goals (three over 50 yards, one blocked).

On the other side of the ball, the Aggies finally discovered an offense after being mired at the bottom of the national offensive statistics all season.

USU Quarterback Kirk Johnson looked like a different player, as he ran for three touchdowns and threw for another in completing 26 of 42 passes for 297 yards. He still had a few wild tosses into the ground or way over receivers' heads, but he had no interceptions and looked much sharper than he has all season.

"You've got to consider the opposition - obviously they weren't USC or Illinois or BYU," said Johnson. "But I got more and more comfortable and felt more and more relaxed as the game went along."

After a 10-for-22 first half, Johnson came on strong with 16-of-20 completions in the second half. Patrick Newman had eight catches for 107 yards, Rod Moore had seven for 86 and Ryan Duve had six for 65. And tailback Demetrius Brown (where's he been all season?) rushed for 79 yards on the afternoon.

At first it looked like a continuation of the previous four Aggie games, as Fullerton took the kickoff and marched down the field, hardly breaking a sweat as Pringle ran the final yard for a 7-0 lead.

The Aggies answered with an 80-yard drive of their own, Johnson scoring on a 17-yard scramble on 3rd and 10. The key play in the drive was a 39-yard pass from Johnson to Moore. The pass wasn't a thing of beauty, as Moore had to come back to catch the wobbly throw. But it was an indication that it might be the Aggies' day.

"I felt right then after we went 80 yards that this was going to be a good day for us," said Johnson, who had completed only 32 percent of his passes coming into the game.

The Titans came right back, but when they stalled at the 19, the Aggies came through with a play that Shelton called the "turning point."

Aggie defensive back Greg Haynes broke through to block Phil Nevin's 36-yard field-goal attempt. So instead of being down 10-7, the Aggies were still tied and they eventually went into halftime ahead 13-7, thanks to two Russ Moody field goals from 42 and 38 yards out.

The next key play for the Aggies came early in the second half when Newman nearly broke a punt return, going 28 yards to the CSF 41. Five plays later Johnson sneaked in from the one for his second touchdown.

Fullerton crept within 20-17 by the end of the third quarter on 35-yard Nevin field goal and an 11-yard run by Pringle.

There was some controversy on the next Aggie drive on a 39-yard pass to Newman, who leaped to make an apparent spectacular catch on the Aggie sideline. The official quickly ruled it a catch, but the ball was seen bounding away and the Fullerton defenders claimed no catch. After a minute of discussion by the officials, the catch was ruled good and Fullerton Coach Gene Murphy could only wave his hand in disgust.

"I don't know if that was good or bad, we'll just have to take a look at the film," said Murphy afterward. "I wouldn't call it a turning point."

Newman, of course, said it was a legitimate catch. "Yeah, I felt like it was a catch. I caught it twice, so I think they thought I didn't have control. Then when I hit the ground it came loose, but the ground can't cause a fumble."

Hmmm . . . Anyway, the pass play gave the Aggies great field position and they scored a few plays later on a 9-yard pass to Moore in the left corner of the end zone.

After another missed field goal by CSF, the Aggies drove 61 yards with Johnson going the final three to virtually put the game away at 34-17 with 6:42 left.

Fullerton scored on a Speltz-to-Rocky Palamara 1-yard pass, but messed up the two-point conversion try. The Titans were successful on the onside kick attempt but couldn't capitalize on it.

"I think they were just more hungry than we were," said Murphy. "I thought they had an excellent

game plan and they made the big plays."

Shelton had hesitated before the game to call it a must win for the maligned Aggie program, but afterward he admitted how big it was.

"It was a critical game for us. I really feel if we had not won this game, it would have been a miserable, miserable year for us. But I think with the advent of winning this football game we can do some things now.

Next up for the Aggies is perhaps their biggest Big West test of the season, when league favorite Fresno State comes to town Saturday.