No doubt about it, this Utah-Utah State rivalry is legit.
Spurred by talented quarterback Chuckie Keeton, the Aggies proved Thursday they aren't a fluke, as they nearly upset the Utes for a second year in a row.
As for the Utes, they showed their highly touted up-tempo offense can indeed fly at critical times.
But more than anything, Thursday's 30-26 win by the Utes was just a good old-fashioned entertaining slugfest that served as a perfect way to kick off the 2013 football season.
"1-0 is way, way better than 0-1, I can tell you that," Utah defender Trevor Reilly said. "This is a big hump off our back. To lose to them last year was a big downer, and it was a hard-fought game that ended up on our side tonight."
The unlikely hero was kicker Andy Phillips, who made field goals from 45, 19 and 38 yards and successfully performed an onside kick in the third quarter that was recovered on Utah's 48-yard line.
From there, Utah quarterback Travis Wilson showed he had some skills of his own to match Keeton's efficiency. Wilson connected with Sean Fitzgerald for passes of 22 and 26 yards to set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Karl Williams that put the Utes ahead 24-23 and continued to hurt the Aggies with big gains.
He finished 17 for 28 for 302 yards and two touchdowns, nearly matching Keeton, who finished 31 for 40 for 314 yards and two touchdowns. Keeton also rushed 15 times for 85 yards.
Keeton was every bit the player Utah coach Kyle Whittingham thought he'd be. Whittingham could compliment the potential Heisman candidate at least from a better viewpoint than a year ago.
"We've been looking forward to this game all offseason," Whittingham said. "We reminded them of last year and I look at it personally as this game was the one that kept us out of bowl contention, so it's good to get it under the belt."
If Thursday's nail-biter is indicative of what lies ahead for the teams, then Aggies fans have to be excited about the potential their team showed even in defeat while the Utes can revel in avenging last year's loss, with a hefty amount of concern for future opponents.
Utah's young defense struggled to contain Keeton while the offense didn't find its pace until the third quarter.
Prior to that, it spent the first three quarters surviving on key penalties against the Aggies and a few big gains by Anthony Denham, Utah's No. 3 receiver, who became a prime target when star receiver Kenneth Scott suffered a season-ending leg injury in the first quarter.
It wasn't the kind of convincing debut the Utes were hoping to have, but it was a win in a rivalry that has newfound life.
"We are an average football team at best," Whittingham said. "We have a lot of things to resolve. The defensive numbers were higher than usual and that is to be expected when you are running a fast tempo, but we have to be better than we were tonight. A lot of that was Chuckie Keeton, but we have got our work cut out for us." Storylines
IN SHORT • The Utes avoid back-to-back losses to the Aggies as they rally from a 23-14 deficit to win.
KEY MOMENT • Andy Phillips makes two field goals in the fourth quarter and pulls off an onside kick to key the Utes' win.
KEY STAT • The Utes give up 186 yards in the second half after giving up 301 yards in the first half.