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Punt returner's antics result in costly ejection

LOGAN — Kevin Robinson caught the punt, sidestepped a pair of North Texas tacklers and found a seam straight upfield wide enough for two cement trucks and a Volvo.

Sixty-six yards later, the Utah State freshman returner was pinned against the sideline and made another nifty juke to cut loose, then dove the final four yards for the TD to put the Aggies up 13-3.

That dive to the end zone was also the end of the line for Robinson, ejected for his second excessive celebration penalty. His final line: two returns for 114 yards and a touchdown.

The loss of Robinson on Saturday was followed by a 31-23 loss to North Texas that marked the Mean Green's 20th straight Sun Belt Conference victory.

Utah State coach Mick Dennehy was demoralized by the defeat, saying it was one of the toughest losses he's been in.

While USU has been steamrolled by the Mean Green before (and was again victimized by a 256-yard rushing effort by North Texas freshman running back Jemario Thomas), what made this one so difficult was that the Aggies had their chances, especially with stellar play from the Aggie special teams.

Trailing 24-20 in the third quarter, USU quarterback Travis Cox fumbled at the 1-yard line and watched TJ Covington turn a sure six points into a 100-yard TD return. With Robinson out of the game, USU's Jerome Dennis, USU's featured returner two years ago before sitting out last season with an injury, broke the ensuing kickoff for 60 yards to set up an Aggie field goal that kept Utah State within eight.

Dennis, who also registered a special teams tackle on the game's opening kickoff, came up big again after an exchange of possessions by downing a Leon Jackson III 59-yard punt inside the North Texas 1-yard line.

Jackson, a backup quarterback, has been handling the punting duties since starter Ben Chaet went down with a sprained ankle last week at Troy State. He averaged 54.7 yards on three punts in the game. USU's defense then forced a punt, giving the Aggies great field position, but their chance to tie fell to the grass with a fourth-and-goal Cox pass from the 1-yard line that glanced off Trent Nate's hands in the end zone.

"We lost some guys and that hurt us a ton, " Dennehy said. "I thought they battled so valiantly to overcome that it was unbelievable."

Dennis said he felt he had a responsibility as special teams captain to make things happen. A lot of people out there look up to me to make plays. I knew that this game I had to step up and become an effect on special teams."

Having that effect and coming close was no consolation for Dennis, though. "The bottom line is we lost," he said.

USU entered the game third in the nation in punt returns. Robinson tied a 54-year-old Aggie record with a 90-yard punt return last week at Troy State.

NOTES: Junior wideout Blake Garrett made his first USU reception count, snagging a 3-yard pass in the back of the end zone to give USU a 20-10 lead . . . Jarrod Jakubiak's third-quarter field goal made him the third USU kicker to attempt a FG this year . . . After three quarters, Utah State's leading rusher, Peter Shields, had 21 yards — exactly 10 percent of the Mean Green's Jamario Thomas' 210 yards in the same period of time. Thomas' 256-yard rushing total is the first time the Aggies have given up more than 200 yards to a ballcarrier since DeWitt Betterson's 230 yards set a Troy State record last year against USU . . . Jarrett Bush and Rod McNeal also contributed with kick and punt returns of better than 20 yards.


E-mail: RBurton@desnews.com