"It all came down to making plays," Aggies coach Gary Andersen said. "They made one more play than we did when it counted."
Bobcats quarterback Tyler Tettleton scored the game-winning touchdown, a 1-yard jaunt into the end zone with 13 seconds remaining, far too little time for Utah State to have any realistic hope of mounting a last-second miracle.
Tettleton, a sophomore, led Ohio on the winning drive late in the fourth quarter. The final score represented the only lead of the game for the Bobcats. The Aggies led by as much as 23-10 in the second half. They almost tripled Ohio's rushing yardage, dominated time of possession, boasted two 100-yard rushers in Michael Smith and Robert Turbin and contained Ohio's high-octane offense for the most part.
But a conservative offensive approach in the second half, coupled with the decision to not attempt a two-point conversion, eventually doomed USU. The Bobcats hung around, never lost contact and scored the final 14 points of the game, stealing their first bowl win in school history.
"It's tough," said Smith, Utah State's MVP. "In my mind, we were the better team by far. But stuff happens, and we have to deal with it. This one hurts. We wanted to end this season with a win."
This was still a breakthrough year for the Aggies, who won seven games in the regular season for the first time since 1979. Despite not winning an eighth game for the first time in 37 years, Utah State finished second in the Western Athletic Conference, its highest ever. The Aggies boasted the WAC offensive player of the year in Turbin, and they went to a bowl game.
"This group set the bar," Smith said. "The younger guys can watch us and come up and be better than us."
Smith rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 attempts. His 11-yard run through the middle supplied USU with a 23-10 advantage with 5:51 remaining in the third period, its biggest of the game.
But the Aggies much like in their losses to Auburn, BYU and Colorado State let Ohio back into it. Bobcats MVP LaVon Brazill, a senior wide receiver, caught a 44-yard touchdown pass from Tettleton late in the third quarter.
After the two teams traded possessions, Utah State received the ball on its own 5-yard line. Three runs up the middle later, the Aggies were forced to punt from their own end zone. Once the Bobcats received possession, with more than 3 minutes remaining, they easily marched down the field. Ohio faced fourth down from USU's 14. The Aggies blitzed. Tettleton lobbed a pass to Brazill, who caught it and was tackled at the 1-yard line.
Two plays later, Tettleton had the winning touchdown and Ohio's first 10-win season since 1968.
"We got everything we wanted out of that blitz," Andersen said. "We had great coverage, we had safeties running free and we forced the kid to throw off his back foot. We just didn't make the play."