LOGAN — In its first year in the Mountain West Conference, Utah State will be playing in the conference championship game.
The Aggies came in to Saturday afternoon's showdown with Wyoming knowing they needed a victory to secure their spot in the title game and were in no mood to squander the opportunity. The USU defense had three shutout quarters and the Aggie offense did its part to lead Utah State (8-4, 7-1) to a 35-7 victory over Wyoming (5-7, 3-5) at Romney Stadium in front of 21,325 fans.
The win clinched the Mountain Division title for Utah State. The Aggies will take on Fresno State for the first-ever Mountain West championship game. The location of the game will be determined by the BCS standings to be released on Sunday afternoon, but is likely to be held in Fresno, Calif.
“It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt,” an emotional Utah State head coach Matt Wells said. “It’s what you get into this for, to play for a championship. We said it in January, we said it in August. Here we are November 30th, and we’ve won half a championship.”
The Aggie defense stifled quarterback Brett Smith all game and held Wyoming without a score until the fourth quarter, when Smith threw a 60-yard touchdown, but by that time the outcome had long been decided.
Wide receiver/kick returner JoJo Natson showed again why he can be one of the most exciting players in the state. On a second quarter punt return, Natson fielded the ball off the bounce at the Utah State 36, retreated a few yards and then split the coverage team on his way to a 64-yard touchdown to put Utah State up 14-0. It was Natson’s second punt return for a score this season. In the third quarter, Natson snuck behind the defense for an easy 6-yard touchdown catch. Natson finished with six catches for 14 yards and a touchdown while adding four punt returns for 93 yards and the score.
“Nothing surprises me with that little sucker,” Wells said about Natson. “You can’t see him out there. We got to get him to figure out which way is north. It’s like the guys who shoot 3-pointers where you say ‘no, no, no, nice shot.’ Sometimes we do that with JoJo. Anytime the ball touches that kid's hands he’s explosive and can take it to the house any time.”
The offense started slow but steadily built a lead throughout the game. Senior running back Joey DeMartino ripped off his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season, finishing with 112 yards and scored right before halftime to send the Aggies to the locker room up 21-0. DeMartino went over the 1,000 yard mark for the season on a 17-yard carry early in the fourth quarter to become the 17th Aggie in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
“Add another running back to the 1,000-yard club at Utah State,” Wells said. “Add him in there on sheer guts and determination. Sometimes it’s not pretty. Sometimes it’s not highlight reel, but you look up and he has another 100 yards. I’m so proud of Joey. He got one of the game balls.”
Darrell Garretson shrugged off a rough performance against Colorado State last week for a solid outing. The true freshman finished 20 of 29 throwing for 156 yards and threw scores to Natson, tight end Wyatt Houston and wide-out Brandon Swindall.
The win clinched a happy Senior Day for the Aggies' 22 graduating players, but being this close to the conference title means there is still work to be done for the team.
You couldn’t have written a better script, except maybe to have a shutout, Wells said. “To be able to win on your home field on your Senior Day, those seniors will never forget it. It’s a special deal for them, but they still want the big trophy.”
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.
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