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Another painfully close loss for USU

The recurring nightmare continued for the Utah State football team Saturday afternoon.

For four games running, the Aggies have been in position to win in the final four minutes of the game, only to have something bad and usually strange happen to leave them with a frustrating loss.It happened again on a rainy afternoon at Parker Stadium, where the Aggies had a golden opportunity at the end, only to lose 24-16 to Oregon State.

Down 24-10, the Aggies had given themselves a chance to send the game into overtime on a long punt return for a touchdown by Steve Smith with 3:37 left (the PAT missed) and a successful onside kick. Matt Sauk then moved the Ags down to the 5-yard line in four plays.

That's where the little gremlins jumped up and foiled the Aggies again.

Demario Brown was at the end of a run, and as he was being tackled he literally had the ball taken from him by OSU's Jonathan Jackson. Just like that, the Beavers had possession on their own 5-yard line, from where they ran out the clock.

The defeat left the Aggies at 2-4 and searching for answers as they head into the Big West portion of their schedule beginning this week at home against New Mexico State.

"We're just good enough to get beat . . . and that's not very good," said USU coach John L. Smith. "We've got to do some soul-searching as a staff and as a team and decide what kind of football team we're going to be."

Except for two long plays, a "lucky" 68-yard pass from Sauk to Ricky Brumfield three minutes into the game and Smith's electrifying 74-yard punt return with just over three minutes left, the Aggies were flat most of the day.

This was a game the Aggies could have won against a program that has gone an NCAA-record 27 years without a winning record. However, the Beaver defense stymied the Aggies much of the day, and the Ags hurt themselves, particularly heralded receiver Nakia Jenkins, who had at least a half dozen passes bounce off his fingertips, including two that would likely have resulted in touchdowns.

When asked about Jenkins, coach Smith said, "That's kind of how he practiced this week. We had two miserable days of practice, and we played miserable."

Trailing 14-7 at halftime, the Aggies appeared to be revived for awhile in the second half as the defense came up with a fumble on OSU's first possession and stops on their next two possessions.

However, the offense couldn't help much, getting just three points despite being in OSU territory three times. First Brad Bohn, who was a perfect 5-for-5 coming into the game, missed a chip-shot field goal from 30 yards. Then the Ags couldn't get past the 38-yard line before having to punt. Then, after getting to the 7-yard line, they had to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Bohn.

Oregon State finally found some offense and drove 69 yards behind backup quarterback Tyler Tomich, who hit Roddy Tompkins for a 15-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-10 early in the fourth quarter.

Then the Beavers used up nearly seven minutes in driving 82 yards against an exhausted Aggie defense (time of possession - 38 minutes to 22 for OSU). However, the Aggies stiffened after the Beavers had a 1st-and-goal at the 1-yard line and forced a 32-yard field goal by Jose Cortez.

The Aggies seemed doomed when Sauk was intercepted for the second time at the 10-yard line with 4:40 left. However, Smith's punt return, in which he weaved his way upfield, breaking at least five tackles gave the Aggies new life. However, a mishandled snap on the PAT try left the Ags in a position to have to try for two if they scored again.

And they nearly did after Johndale Carty recovered the onside kick. Brown ran for eight yards and Sauk, who played the whole game after being questionable with a sprained ankle, hit Jenkins and Smith with passes before Brown's run that ended with a fumble.

Except for the final fumble, Brown was the Aggies best offensive player with 131 yards on 25 carries as well as six pass receptions. Sauk was 17 of 35 for 210 yards.

Things came easy to the Aggies early on. They held the Beavers without a yard on their first possession, then scored on a 68-yard pass from Sauk to Ricky Brumfield with 12:38 left in the first quarter. The ball was intended for Jenkins, but Brumfield was in the same area and snatched the slightly under-thrown ball and headed in for the touchdown. "That was kind of lucky, I'd say," said Sauk.

The Beavers' main play in the first half was a quarterback draw by Tim Alexander, who picked up 71 yards on the day. Over and over, the quick Alexander, who also played tailback and receiver during the game, would hesitate in the backfield before heading up field for long gainers.

Alexander scored the Beavers' second touchdown late in the second quarter on a 15-yard run on a 4th-and-1 play. Tailback Ricky Walker, who later left with an injury, got the Beavers' first score on a 6-yard run.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Big West standings

Conf. Overall

Team W L W L

Utah St. 0 0 2 4

Idaho 1 0 4 2

N. Texas 0 1 2 4

N. Mexico St. 0 1 1 5

Boise St. 1 0 2 4

Nevada 0 0 1 5

Saturday's games

Boise St. 52, New Mexico St. 10

Idaho 44, UC Davis 14

Oregon St. 24, Utah St. 16

Wyoming 34, Nevada 30