Derek Carr threw for 404 yards and three touchdowns and the Fresno State defense stepped up to the plate with nine sacks to lead the No. 23 Bulldogs to a 24-17 victory over Utah State in the first-ever Mountain West Conference title game on Saturday night.
FSU finishes 11-1, while Utah State falls to 8-5.
Carr’s first two touchdowns sparked FSU to a 17-0 lead, but Jake Doughty’s 86-yard return of a Josh Quezada fumble with seconds to play in the first half made the score 17-7 in favor of the Bulldogs. Carr’s third touchdown extended FSU’s lead to 24-7 in the third quarter and it looked like the Bulldogs would cruise to the win.
Things looked even more bleak for the Aggies when starting quarterback Darell Garretson was knocked out of the game on a sack with USU trying to finish off a drive deep in FSU territory early in the fourth quarter. Garretson — himself filling in for the injured Chuckie Keeton — was replaced by junior Craig Harrison. But the Aggies soon scored on Bruce Natson’s 10-yard touchdown run and the lead was 24-14 with 12 minutes to play.
Then the Aggies recovered the onside kick and things really started to get interesting.
Harrison drove the Aggies 35 yards in seven plays, leading to Nick Diaz’ 20-yard field goal. Suddenly, the score was 24-17 with plenty of time left. That was as close as it got, but the Bulldogs had some nervous moments before time expired.
Namely, USU stopped FSU on fourth down inside Aggie territory on its final two drives of the game (barring the one by the Bulldogs to drain the last few seconds off the clock). The last time came on a questionable decision by FSU coach Tim DeRuyter to pass up a makeable field goal to go for the first down at the USU 29 yard line. Quezada was stopped cold and USU took over with a chance to send the game to overtime.
The Aggies drove to the Bulldog 39, but Harrison’s final pass was intercepted by Dalen Jones on the FSU 17 yard line with 44 seconds to play.
Despite the loss, USU shouldn’t hang its heads. After all, the Aggies weren’t supposed to get this far after losing their star, Keeton. But they persevered and showed they weren’t just a one-man team.
Kudos to the Bulldogs defense, too, which gave up 304 total yards to the Aggies just one week after allowing 736 to San Jose State. While the loss to the Spartans will sting for a while, FSU finished with its best record since also going 11-1 in 1989. DeRuyter is 20-5 in his two seasons in Fresno and, if the school can keep him around, this should remain a program on the rise.