Behind a dominant defense that limited Wake Forest to negative 25 yards rushing, Utah State rallied from an early 7-0 deficit with 29 unanswered points and the Aggies beat the Demon Deacons, 36-24, Saturday night in a White Out at Merlin Olsen Field at Romney Stadium.
Utah State won its second game in a row in improving to 2-1 on the season, as well as winning 27 of their last 36 games, including eight of its last 10 games in the month of September. With the loss, Wake Forest slid to 1-2, after not only the first-ever meeting between USU and WF, but the first-ever visit to Logan by an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) school. With Saturday's win, USU is now 1-3 all-time against the ACC.
The negative 25 yards rushing is the third-best defensive performance by USU, behind the -51 against Pacific in 1980 and -35 also against Pacific in 1967.
USU's defense scored twice and sacked WF quarterback John Wolford a total of six times, spearheaded by three by senior defensive end B.J. Larsen, as part of his four tackles on the night, adding two QB hurries and one pass break-up. The Aggies also intercepted Wolford twice, including once by senior linebacker Zach Vigil, who returned it 35 yards for a TD to open Utah State's scoring after Wake Forest had scored on a 70-yard interception return of its own. Sophomore safety Devin Centers also had a defensive score, scooping up a fumble and darting 47 yards to the end zone. Senior safety Frankie Sutera had the other interception, snaring a Wolford pass at midfield and returning it 24 yards to the WF 26-yard line, which set up the Aggies for a 6-yard TD toss from senior quarterback Chuckie Keeton to senior tight end Jefferson Court at the 4:46 mark of the second quarter for Court's first career TD catch.
Sutera and sophomore linebacker Nick Vigil led USU with nine tackles apiece, with Nick Vigil logging 2.5 tackles for loss. Senior safety Brian Suite added seven tackles, while junior linebacker Torrey Green also had 2.5 tackles for loss as part of his six stops on the night. Junior LT Filiaga added five tackles. In all, the Aggie defense posted a total of 14 tackles for loss.
Wake Forest finished with 232 total offense yards, gaining 257 passing, as Wolford was 20-of-50 with two interceptions and two touchdowns.
USU accumulated 391 yards of total offense with 331 through the air and 60 on the ground. Keeton was 20-of-27 passing for 166 yards with one TD, all in the first half, before not returning to action in the second half due to an injury. Sophomore signal-caller Darell Garretson was 11-of-16 passing for 121 yards with one TD in relief.
Freshman wide receiver Hunter Sharp had 12 catches for 138, both not only game-highs but career-bests as well, and were the most receptions by an Aggie receiver since Kevin Curtis in 2002. Sophomore wideout JoJo Natson had six receptions for 78 yards with a TD catch on a 44-yard catch and run score on an end-around, wideout pass from senior wide receiver Ronald Butler with 8:21 to go in the second quarter that put USU ahead 13-7 for the Aggies' first offensive TD after Zach Vigil's interception return to payturf.
Natson led USU's rushing attack with 49 yards on eight carries, while junior running back Rashad Hall added 14 yards.
Wake Forest was paced by Cam Serigne's 91 yards receiving on seven catches, with EJ Scott adding 62 yards on five receptions with one TD, a 10-yard catch from Wolford in the third quarter. Isaiah Robinson added the Demon Deacons' other score with a 3-yard scoring reception from Wolford.
After the USU defense held Wake Forest to a punt on its opening possession, the Aggies drove deep into Demon Deacon territory before Keeton's pass attempt was picked off by Josh Banks who rambled 70-yards to the endzone for the TD.
The Aggies counter-attacked with Zach Vigil's oskie return for a score on WF's next possession and senior placekicker Nick Diaz leveled the score at 7-7 with the PAT.
Partway through the second quarter, Butler and Natson connected for the TD pass play, but Diaz' kick was off the upright, leaving USU ahead, 13-7 at the 8:21 mark of the second stanza. On the Demon Deacons' ensuing possession, Wolford was sacked by Nick Vigil and fumbled, then Centers scooped up the loose ball and ran it back 47-yards to the end zone. Again the Aggies missed the extra point, as Tylor Harris burst through the line and blocked Diaz' attempt, leaving USU ahead 19-7 with 6:34 on the second quarter clock.
After Sutera's snare set up USU at the WF 26, Keeton connected with Court to cap the short Aggie drive and Diaz split the uprights for a 26-7 Aggie advantage with 4:46 to go in the half.
USU wasn't done scoring before halftime as Diaz drilled a 26-yard field goal as time expired to send the Aggies into the locker room with a 29-7 lead.
The Demon Deacons closed to 39-21 after back-to-back scoring possessions on Wolford to Robinson from 3-yards out just 1:54 into the third quarter and later on a 10-yard Wolford pass to Scott at the 7:49 mark of the third frame. The Aggies quickly countered with a Garretson led drive, including a 42-yard pass play to Butler and the drive was capped on a 5-yard Garretson TD pass to sophomore tight end Wyatt Houston. Diaz tacked on the extra point for the 36-21 USU lead with 5:46 left in period three.
Wake Forest added a 30-yard field goal from Mike Weaver with 1:01 left in the third quarter for the final scoring margin of 36-24 as neither team scored in the fourth quarter.
The Aggies hit the road next, traveling to Arkansas State on Saturday, Sept. 20 in a 5 p.m. (MT) kickoff. The Red Wolves are 1-2 after losing to Miami (Fla.), 41-20, Saturday afternoon. The USU-ASU battled will not be televised, but will be streamed on ESPN3.com.
After a bye week, USU plays at in-state rival BYU on Friday, Oct. 3 at 8:30 p.m. in a nationally-televised Beehive State battle on ESPN.
The Aggies return home to host Air Force in their Mountain West opener on Saturday, Oct. 11 with time and television information to be announced at a later date.