by Max Jeppesen
At the start, it was all Oregon State. Within the first minute of the game, the Beavers found the end zone. On the defensive end, they were giving the USU offensive line an early headache. Logan Bonner avoided a sack, but also took a hard hit to the knee. With Andrew Peasley also sidelined for the last few weeks due to a shoulder injury, the opportunity of a lifetime came to Cooper Legas. The sophomore had never attempted a pass in college before. With the Aggies trailing 7-0, a lot of responsibility was placed on him.
Like most circumstances this year for the Aggies, it’s become imperative to expect the unexpected. Legas found Deven Thompkins who took it to the house for 62 yards. It’s fair to say that he was ready to deal with the responsibility. Legas became the first person in FBS history to throw a touchdown for their first-ever completion in a bowl game. The former Orem Tiger threw two touchdowns and one interception while completing 55 percent of his passes.
Cooper couldn’t do this on his own. Calvin Tyler Jr, who spent four years in Corvallis before transferring to Utah State, was up against his former team for the first time. Tyler ran for 120 yards in 26 attempts and one touchdown trip. A statement performance helped outscore Oregon State 24-6 in the last three quarters.
Utah State began to make a statement on the defensive end as well. After allowing Oregon State to score in the first minute of the game, the Beavers never made it to the end zone again. Oregon State struggled to move the chains; only 4/12 on third-down conversions and 0/2 on fourth-down conversions. This started with Justin Rice and Nick Heiniger. Rice lead the team with nine tackles while Heninger kept Chance Nolan on his toes with three sacks and five tackles for loss.
The Aggies went on to control their destiny, securing a 24-13 victory. The MVP accolades were awarded to Thompkins and Nick Heiniger for their offensive and defensive performances respectively. It was an incredible way to end the 2021 season for the program.
For the third time in program history, Utah State ended the season with 11 wins. What a year for Aggie football. After going 1-5 in 2020, they finished 11-3 in 2021 which was one of the greatest improvements of any team in the FBS this season. Blake Anderson went perfect on the road in his first season as a coach, including 2-0 against the PAC-12. At the start of the season, their identity came from being the “comeback kings” in their first four wins. They overcame a 10 point lead or more in those games. In their last three games, Utah State hasn’t allowed a team to score more than 13 points.
Credit should be given to Blake Anderson, Ephraim Banda, Anthony Tucker, and everyone involved in this program. It’s hard for true lovers of the game of football to not love the story of the 2021 Utah State Aggies.
Featured image courtesy Ronald Martinez, Getty Images