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Logan • As expected, Utah State defeated Southern Utah on Thursday night at Maverik Stadium.

Unexpectedly, the Aggies needed Andrew Rodriguez' 88-yard punt return for a touchdown with 4:54 remaining to subdue the stubborn Thunderbirds, 12-9.

It was the third-longest punt return in school history.

Utah State's defense came up with the key stop moments before Rodriguez gave the Aggies their first lead.

Southern Utah had second-and-six from the USU 47, but a motion penalty preceded a delay of game call. The Thunderbirds failed to convert and were forced to punt.

When they did, Rodriguez fielded the ball in the middle of the field at his own 12-yard line. He beat the first wave of Southern Utah players to the corner, turned up field in front of the Thunderbird bench and raced down the sideline for the game-deciding score.

"That was as interesting a win as I've been around," Utah State coach Matt Wells said. " … It was an outstanding performance by our defense and one huge, huge punt return."

Said Rodriguez: "I'm grateful our return team blocked them. … I caught it and was able to make one guy miss. Then I knew I had to go right because it was a return right."

Oddly, Rodriquez didn't start the game as the Aggies' No. 1 punt returner.

"That just goes to show you the kind of fight in the kid and the kind of fight in our team," Wells said. "They didn't give up."

The game got off an unimaginably crazy start.

On Utah State's first possession, it appeared Southern Utah recovered a fumble after a completed pass from Chuckie Keeton to Zach Van Leeuwen. After a review, however, the call was reversed to incomplete and the Aggies dodged a bullet.

Or did they?

Forced to punt, Utah State's Aaron Dalton dropped the snap from center and had his kick blocked by Matt Holley. Southern Utah took over at the Aggie 24 and, after a penalty, quarterback Ammon Olsen hit Mike Sharp with a 27-yard touchdown pass.

Did someone say, 'Crazy?"

Southern Utah's extra point attempt was blocked by David Moala. After a wild scramble for the football, the Aggies' Torrey Green picked it up and returned it for two points.

Trailing 6-2, Utah State's offense continued to sputter until late in the first quarter. A 39-yard run by Devante Mays looked like it would spark the Aggies, who moved to the Thunderbird 20. On second down, though, LaJuan Hunt was tackled for no gain and Keeton threw an incomplete pass.

With 4:59 left in the first quarter, Brock Warren salvaged the drive with a 30-yard field goal — the first of his career — and Utah State inched within a point, 6-5.

The score stayed that way until the final 1:30 of the half, when Southern Utah took over at its own 40. Back-to-back pass interference calls on the Aggies helped the Thunderbirds drive inside the Utah State 15. But the drive stalled and Keita Calhoun kicked a 36-yard field goal with four seconds left to give SUU a 9-5 lead at halftime.

At intermission, Utah State owned a 154-94 advantage in total offense. Neither team converted on third down. The Thunderbirds were 0-for-9. The Aggies were 0-for-8.

Utah State's offense showed signs of life in the third quarter but couldn't score, setting up the frantic finish and the Aggies' 36th victory in their last 48 games.

"I'm not going to put lipstick on a pig," Wells said. "… But it's a win."


O Utah State rallies for a 12-9 victory over Southern Utah in the season opener for both teams.

• The Aggies takes their first lead on Andrew Rodriguez' 88-yard punt return with 4:54 left.

• Quarterback Chuckie Keeton completes 16 of 33 passes for 110 yards. He throws one interception.

Utah State 12, Southern Utah 9

S. Utah 6 3 0 0 — 9

Utah St. 5 0 0 7 — 12

First Quarter

SUU • Sharp 27 pass from Olsen (kick blocked), 13:21.

USU • 2-point defensive conversion by Green, 13:21.

USU • 2-point defensive conversion by Green, 13:21.

Second Quarter

SUU • FG Warren 30, 4:59.

Fourth Quarter

USU • Rodriguez 88 punt return (Warren kick)

Attendance • 21,209


First downs 9 15

Rushes-yards 30-52 35-140

Passing 111 110

Comp-Att-Int 17-34-0 16-33-1

Return Yards 38 171

Punts-Avg. 15-44.1 14-33.1

Fumbles-Lost 0-0 0-0

Penalties-yards 12-85 11-123

Time of Possession 29:48 30:12

Individual Statistics

Rushing • S. Utah, Healey 12-38, M.Brown 9-16, Ursua 1-5, Olsen 7-(minus 3), Team 1-(minus 4). Utah St., Hunt 23-80, Mays 4-51, Keeton 6-7, Robinson 1-4, Team 1-(minus 2).

Passing • S. Utah, Olsen 17-34-0-111. Utah St., Keeton 16-33-1-110.

Receiving • S. Utah, Ju.Brown 5-38, Sharp 4-40, Measom 4-17, Healey 2-(minus 1), Rutledge 1-15, Ursua 1-2. Utah St., Roberts 4-25, Robinson 3-29, Rodriguez 2-20, Houston 2-19, Hunt 2-0, Mays 1-9, K.Williams 1-5, Fox 1-3.