Utah State quarterback Kent Myers heated up in the second half, and an offensively challenged Fresno State team forced to settle for field goals could not keep up.
Myers, who entered with four scoring passes on the season, threw for two of his three touchdowns in the final two quarters and the Aggies also scored on a first-half blocked punt and recovery in the end zone in a 38-20 win over the Bulldogs on Saturday night at Maverik Stadium.
Fresno State has lost six straight, securing the third straight losing season for fifth-year coach Tim DeRuyter.
“It’s rough, man. It’s rough,” senior free safety Stratton Brown said. “But we’ve got to stick together and link arms. We’re playing for each other now. Whatever happens happens. We’re not trying to lose out. We’re a better them than we’re showing.”
A duel between the only teams still winless in Mountain West Conference play was close throughout, tied 7-7 after the first quarter before the Aggies (3-4, 1-3) managed a 17-14 halftime lead.
Myers’ second scoring pass of the game was a 5-yarder to Wyatt Houston with 11:50 to go in the third quarter to push the advantage to 24-14. His third came to start the fourth quarter, a gorgeous 25-yarder to Ron’Quavion Tarver to make it 31-17.
Kody Kroening’s 27-yard field goal had pulled the Bulldogs (1-7, 0-4) within seven with 4:13 to play in the third. Kroening, after the Myers-to-Tarver TD pass, kicked a career-long 49-yarder – his nation-leading 13th straight make – to make it 31-20 with 11:41 to play.
Fresno State opted for the long field goal on fourth-and-7 at the Utah State 32. Damion Hobbs’ 4-yard run then capped the Aggies’ clock-sapping, momentum-seizing 11-play, 75-yard drive with 7:14 remaining.
DeRuyter opted for three points so his team could tie the score with a touchdown (and 2-point conversion) and another field goal. But that strategy was dependent on the defense making a stop, which didn’t happen.
“We ended up letting the ball get thrown over our head,” DeRuyter said. “I think we had them in third-and-long, but we had a busted coverage and they converted. If you get off the field there with momentum, you feel like you had the chance to drive down and cut it to a one-score game.”
Utah State built its 17-14 halftime lead on the strength of a Myers touchdown pass and the punt block. The Bulldogs, on fourth-and-18 from their 20 following a broken play and a sack, saw the Aggies’ Jentz Painter break through and Austin Cheney recover in the end zone with 6:22 to go in the half.
Brock Warren’s career long 43-yard field goal gave Utah State a 17-7 lead with 3:45 to go, but the Bulldogs strung together their best drive of the night to get back within a single score in the closing minutes.
Chason Virgil hit Jared Rice for a 1-yard touchdown with 24 seconds remaining as the Bulldogs went 77 yards in 13 plays. Virgil went 8 for 8 for 55 yards on the scoring march.
“At halftime we definitely thought it was our game to lose,” Virgil said. “We drove down before half and put points on the board so we kinda felt good about ourselves.”
Both teams had been offensively challenged while going winless in their first three conference games this season. Fresno State ranked 10th in the 12-team league in total offense at 354.9 yards per game. Utah State was slightly better, ninth at a 391.3 clip.
The Aggies slightly exceeded their average Saturday, totaling 392 yards to the Bulldogs’ 319. Utah State’s big edge came on the ground, where it rushed for 203 yards compared to 114 for Fresno State.
Virgil, who entered having completed exactly 50 percent of his passes this season (120 of 240), was 16 of 25 for 115 yards in the first two quarters, then finished 27 of 44 for 205 yards on the night. Lead back Dontel James ran 29 times for 80 yards.
Each team scored in the opening period, with the Bulldogs tying it on James’ bruising 3-yard touchdown with 1:28 remaining.
Virgil converted a fourth-and-1 from the Aggies 16 and the Bulldogs picked up an automatic first on fourth-and-2 at the 7 when Utah State was called for delay of game. On the next play, James was hit at the line of scrimmage but spun free and fought his way past would-be tacklers into the end zone.
It capped a 15-play, 86 yard drive.
Otherwise, it was tough going on the ground for a Fresno State team that ranked 117th nationally. The Bulldogs needed 39 carries to gain their 114 rushing yards, an average of 2.9 per attempt.
“It’s been a long season for us, a tough season for us and we’re just trying to work through it and get better every week,” Virgil said.
FRESNO STATE VS. AIR FORCE
- Friday: 7:30 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium
- Records: Bulldogs 1-7, 0-4 Mountain West; Falcons 4-3, 1-3
- TV/radio: ESPN 2/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: Air Force is coming off tough loss, 34-27 at home to Hawaii in double overtime. Falcons kicker Luke Strebel had a chance to win it on the final play of regulation, but his 32-yard field goal attempt went wide right.
Fresno State-Utah State by the numbers
- 8: Tackles by Jeff Camilli, who had streak of four games with 10 or more.
- 3.8: Yards per play for Fresno State, a season low
- 0: Sacks by the Bulldogs; they have two in MW play and nine on the year
- 3: Games in a row Fresno State has held opponent to fewer than 400 total yards
- 0: Turnovers forced by the Bulldogs; they have one in MW play and five on the year
- 13: Consecutive field goals by Kody Kroening, longest streak in the nation
- 10: Penalties against the Bulldogs; their season high is 12 in loss at Toledo
- 14: Advantage for the Bulldogs in plays run, 83 to 69
Utah State 38, Fresno State 20
UTS — Roberts 21 pass from Myers (Warren kick), 10:30
FRE — James 3 run (Kroening kick), 1:28
UTS — (Warren kick)
UTS — FG Warren 43, 3:45
FRE — Ja.Rice 1 pass from Virgil (Kroening kick), :24
UTS — Houston 5 pass from Myers (Warren kick), 11:50
FRE — FG Kroening 27, 4:14
UTS — Tarver 25 pass from Myers (Warren kick), 14:25
FRE — FG Kroening 49, 11:41
UTS — Hobbs 4 run (Warren kick), 7:14
Time of Possession
RUSHING — Fresno State, James 29-80, Virgil 8-28, T.Green 1-3, Ju.Rice 1-3. Utah State, Lindsey 23-89, Myers 8-66, Hunt 4-24, Lewis 1-14, Byers 1-10, Hobbs 1-4, (Team) 2-(minus 4).
PASSING — Fresno State, Virgil 27-44-0-205. Utah State, Myers 17-29-0-188.
RECEIVING — Fresno State, Jordan 10-69, K.Johnson 6-59, Hardaway 3-47, Riddering 3-11, Allen 1-8, Martens 1-5, James 1-3, Ju.Rice 1-2, Ja.Rice 1-1. Utah State, Houston 5-43, Tarver 3-54, Rodriguez 3-26, Roberts 2-49, Lewis 2-4, Lindsey 1-8, K.Williams 1-4.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — None.