Since the Utah State football season ended earlier in 1994 than it had in 1993 (when USU went to the Vegas Bowl), Aggie offensive coordinator Jim Zorn decided to go out for a little "flag football" recently.

Only Zorn's version of the game was a bit different.It involved a flag three stories high and had Zorn and a fellow fitness nut chugging straight up a mountain and back down again to become big heroes to Aggie administrators and fans.

You see, sometime on or about Nov. 4, somebody stole the huge "A" flag that hangs from the back of the pressbox at the top West side of Romney Stadium. Two weeks later, before the New Mexico State game, the flag was finally spotted three-quarters of the way up the mountain directly East of the stadium.

Zorn called athletic director Chuck Bell to tell him, but Bell already knew. "The bad news," said Bell, "is nobody will go get it."

"I said, `Chuck, that's the good news. I'll go,' " says Zorn.

Two weekends ago, Zorn and pal Tim Trezise, the Logan High trainer, set out uphill carrying ski poles and a backpack and figuring it would be a good workout.

Once there, they discovered the flag was securely anchored, fully unfurled, to a microwave dish. "It was roped very well," says Zorn.

They got the banner down and folded it and tied it to Zorn's backpack, and he carried it down, not fully appreciating at the start of the descent how hefty a 90-foot-square flag made of weatherproof material can be.

"That thing was heavy," says Zorn. With all the extra weight, "I just bounded down the hill. I just plowed down." And he admits his quadriceps were on fire as he neared the bottom.

Which makes everyone wonder how the thief got the flag up the mountain in the first place. By helicopter? (Was it one of Dr. Marlowe Goble's pranks? Nah.)

ADD ZORN: He interviewed last weekend at Minnesota for the quarterback-coaching job but likely won't know the outcome until next week.

HOLIDAY HOOP: Saturday, the Aggies host "Holiday Hoopla at the Delta Center," a "production" with a USU-Southern Utah basketball game as its centerpiece. "We've delivered a game to our Wasatch Front fan base," says Bell.

The event is considered a major Aggie function with several receptions planned for alumni, Big Blue Club members and season ticketholders as well as a VIP reception for administrators from both schools and government officials. Several companies have planned pregame Christmas parties in the arena.

There will be a halftime celebrity shootout between Gov. Mike Leavitt, USU president George Emert, former KSL-TV weatherman Bob Welti and former USU women's basketball coach Karen Logan.

Tickets are $11, family passes (five) are $30 with additional seats $6 each. Call the USU ticket office (801) 797-0305 or 1-800-249-BLUE.

KEMP CUT: Basketball coach Larry Eustachy, who was set to welcome sophomore guard Jarobi Kemp back to the team after suspending him for several weeks for violating Eustachy's study rules, has instead cut last season's Big West Conference free-throw co-champion. Kemp missed a meeting with Eustachy, and the coach says he won't be allowed back to the team - ever.

'96 NCAA REGIONAL: The Big West Conference will host the 1996 NCAA men's basketball West Regional to be played at Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim. The general manager of Arrowhead Pond is a Salt Laker, Brad Mayne, a former assistant at the Salt Palace.