Returning from a weeklong break following its disappointing loss to BYU, Utah State traveled to Sin City to visit a winless UNLV squad on Saturday that hadn’t beaten the Aggies since 2008.
Though it trailed for a good portion of the contest, Utah State came out with another late-game victory, thanks to an 11-yard touchdown run by Elelyon Noa with 35 seconds left that gave the Aggies the 28-24 win. The win, regardless of the circumstances, came as a relief to Blake Anderson’s side, which had dropped its previous two.
Senior receiver Deven Thompkins had yet another big statistical outing for the Aggies, finishing with a career-high 13 catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns to carry an offense that struggled to rush the ball until the fourth quarter.
Defensively, the Aggies improved as the game went on. After giving up 17 points in the opening quarter, they held the Rebels to just one lone touchdown over the final three quarters of play.
Despite not being totally satisfied with the way his team played, Anderson said he was proud of players’ never-give-up attitude.
“It’s a group that really loves each other and continues to pull for each other ... and that’s what makes me more proud than anything,” Anderson said. “I’m not proud with how we played because we didn’t play very well, but I am proud of how we carried ourselves.”
The Aggies improved to 4-2 and will return home to play Colorado State next Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Here are three takeaways from the Aggie victory:
Savon Scarver joins history
On Utah State’s first kickoff return of the game, senior Savon Scarver took it 100 yards to the house for his seventh kick return touchdown of his career, tied for the most in NCAA history.
Scarver, who hadn’t had many opportunities to get touchdown No. 7 in the season’s previous games, said he and the coaching staff knew leading up to Saturday’s game that his time would be coming soon.
To make the moment even sweeter, the record-setting touchdown came in his hometown in front of many of his family and friends.
“We’ve been staying patient and finally, it happened,” Scarver said. “But to do it and get (the record-tying play) at home just means so much, ya know? I seen my mom, my pops, my sister, just family and friends everywhere, and it just means everything.”
Wouldn’t be an Aggie win without a comeback
All four of Utah State’s wins this season have required a double-digit comeback at some point in the game.
Though the double-digit deficit came in the first quarter Saturday, the Aggies still found themselves trailing for most of the game and needed resilient play late to pull out the win.
Senior safety Shaq Bond, who finished with a career-high two interceptions and eight tackles, said that the Aggies being at their best late in games is a brand of football they’ve worked hard for.
“You might see us huff and puff, but I kid you not, our legs are fresh even in the third and fourth quarter,” Bond said. “That’s really kind of our identity, (we want to) outwork everyone. We’re not going to be the biggest, we’re not going to be the fastest or strongest, but we will outwork you.”
Gashed on the ground again
Fifteen days after allowing 218 rushing yards to BYU running back Tyler Allgeier, the Aggies struggled to contain a star runner once again, this time UNLV fifth-year senior Charles Williams, who finished with 27 carries for 221 yards and scored all three of UNLV’s touchdowns.
Though the recent struggles to contain opposing lead backs undoubtedly concerns Anderson and his staff, the head coach couldn’t help but admire Williams and his talent.
“I hope he’s a senior. I don’t want to have to tackle him a year from now,” Anderson said. “I did not think we played well, but he ran the ball physically, and you’ve got to give that dude a ton of credit. He’s a very good player. Very good player.”