Utah State spoils return to Martin Stadium

Max Borghi rushes for 98 yards, one touchdown in opening week upset

Max+Borghi+leads+his+team+onto+the+field+on+Sept.+4+at+Martin+Stadium+in+Pullman%2C+Washington.

COLE QUINN

Max Borghi leads his team onto the field on Sept. 4 at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Washington.

AARIK LONG, Evergreen sports editor

On Saturday, after waiting nearly two years, the Cougars got back on Gesa Field with fans in the stands. Unfortunately for the fans in attendance, a series of poor decisions led to an upset loss for WSU, as the Utah State Aggies picked up their first-ever win against a Power Five opponent, 26-23.

“I think we could have put that game away. That’s on me,” head coach Nick Rolovich said immediately following the game.

The festivities began well before kickoff with fans tailgating in adjacent parking lots and students filling the student section before the teams even took the field.

“I gotta say, the students that came out, that was impressive,” Rolovich said. “I do appreciate that.”

The crowd of just under 25,000 witnessed an interesting game and one that will have them talking, to say the least.

“I think there’s a plethora of guys who would’ve raised their hands and said they could have played better, could’ve done something better, me included, coaches included,” Rolovich said.

The first half started out with very little scoring. Three straight punts kicked off the game inside of Martin Stadium before the first sustained drive took place. That drive was a Utah State sequence that was highlighted by a 45-yard pass from Aggie quarterback Andrew Peasley to Deven Thompkins.

The pass got the visitors down to the doorstep of the Cougar end zone, but more damaging for WSU was the loss of safety Daniel Isom on the play. Isom went down with an injury on the tackle. He did leave under his own power, but a trip straight to the locker room ended his night.

The crowd would play a factor on the drive, however. With the play taking place directly in front of the student section, Coug fans let their voices be heard and made it hard on the Aggies offense. This led to not one, not two, but three false starts on Utah State that would push them from the WSU 1-yard line, all the way back to the 16.

However, it would not be enough to keep them off the board, and the Aggies struck first with just under 5 minutes to go in the first. Kicker Connor Coles drilled a 23-yard field goal to put Utah State out in front. That would be the only score of the first quarter.

The subsequent drive for WSU was the first time they had really moved the ball at all in the game. They were able to march it down to the Utah State 18-yard line, but would ultimately settle for a Dean Janikowski 35-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter to tie the game up at three.

Janikowski was listed as the backup on the depth chart behind Andrew Boyle prior to the game.

“That was not planned,” Rolovich said on Monday. “That was not known. That was some stuff that happened pregame. Credit Dean for preparing like he’s gonna kick.”

Utah State’s next drive would end with a punt, but that one punt changed the entire look of the game and potentially the season for WSU.

The Aggies pinned the Cougs down at their own 1-yard line with an incredible showing of special teams. Three plays later, WSU quarterback Jarrett Guarantano would be sacked for a safety, giving Utah State a 5-3 lead. This would be the last time Guarantano would take the field in the game following an injury. 

Guarantano would finish his night going 8 of 13 through the air for 56-yards. He would also pick up 25 yards on four rushing attempts. 

Last year’s starter, Jayden de Laura, would take the majority of snaps for the rest of the game.

The drive after the safety seemed to bring some momentum to the Cougar defense, as Justus Rogers hit Peasley to force a fumble that would be recovered by Andrew Edson at the Cougars’ own 44-yard line.

The WSU offense would pick up three first downs on the subsequent drive and even get down inside the Utah State 15-yard line before having to settle for a field goal attempt. Janikwoski’s attempt from 31 yards away would find nothing but the upright. The kick had plenty of power, sounding like a cannon had went off as it struck the goalpost. 

The following drive for Utah State would be led by Logan Bonner at quarterback instead of Peasley. Bonner would end the Aggie drive with an interception to Derrick Langford that the Cougs would bring back into plus-territory, with the play ultimately ending at the 28-yard line. 

Despite the good field position, the Cougars would not be able to capitalize. De Laura did find Travell Harris in the back of the end zone on a second down play, but the receiver could not hold on. WSU would settle for a 26-yard field goal from Janikowski. This would be the final score of the first half, and the Cougars would enter the locker room with a 6-5 lead. 

Utah State would get the ball first out of the locker room. The Aggies would take advantage of this and reclaim an 8-6 lead with a 39-yard field goal.

The very next drive on offense for the Cougs was the most explosive of the night. It was just three plays. The first was a 16-yard completion from de Laura to Donovan Ollie. The second was an incomplete pass. The third was a 64-yard touchdown run by Max Borghi to give the Cougars a 13-8 lead. The run was the longest of Borghi’s career.

The Aggies would answer back with a long, 11-play drive that would end with a 28-yard field goal and the deficit being cut to 13-11. 

WSU’s next time out continued to show the offense warming up. The Cougars marched 69 yards downfield in nine plays to extend their lead. The drive would be capped with a 12-yard touchdown pass from de Laura to Ollie. Ollie caught the ball a few yards short of the end zone and powered through a defender to get the score, the first of his career. The Cougs lead had been built up to 20-11.

“When he scored that touchdown, you saw the sideline lit up,” fellow receiver Calvin Jackson Jr. said. “They know how hard Don’s been working. All I can do is just smile from ear to ear. Team was hyped, defense was hyped. They got a stop that next drive. I believe that touchdown led to that stop because of all the momentum Don had on that touchdown.”

After a five-play drive, the Aggies would punt it back to WSU. The third quarter would expire with the Cougs still in possession of the ball and the lead.

The fourth quarter started with de Laura rushing for 10 yards on a designed scramble and getting the ball down to the Utah State 2-yard line. Then, came the real head-scratcher of the game. De Laura was substituted out for third-string quarterback Cammon Cooper on the two-yard line. The Cougs would come out in a wishbone formation and Cooper would hand the ball to Borghi twice, but with Cooper in the game, the Aggies anticipated the handoffs and shut down both plays for a combined loss of 4 yards. 

The drive would ultimately end with a 27-yard field goal from Janikowski to extend the lead to 23-11. The Cougs had to settle for three after sitting on the goal line and it would cost WSU in the long run. 

This stop seemingly fired up the Utah State sideline. Their offense would march down the field on the next drive and trim the lead. The drive would go 70 yards in 15 plays, being capped off by a 2-yard rush from Calvin Tyler Jr. The Aggies had cut the lead to just one possession, 23-18.

WSU got the ball back with a five-point lead and just under 5 and a half minutes on the clock. Then, instead of running the ball and attempting to milk the clock, the Cougs attempted three passes, completing two for short gains and not getting the third one off. WSU would punt after a three-and-out, having only taken 2:23 off the clock. 

Utah State took over at their own 22. Knowing they needed a touchdown to win, the defense encouraged the crowd to get loud and make it tough on the Aggies. WSU had a chance to end it with a fourth and three from the Utah State 41-yard line, but the Aggies picked up seven yards and kept the drive alive.

With 20 seconds to go, the Aggies had made it to the WSU 22-yard line. A ball thrown to the right side of the field would cause a piece of yellow laundry to hit the field, as Armauni Archie was flagged for defensive pass interference. The ball was moved to the 7-yard line. Just one play later, the navy and white on the visitors’ sideline began to celebrate as Bonner found Thompkins for the touchdown and the lead. 

Utah State would convert the two-point conversion and took a 26-23 lead. 

“They were just better than us in that two minute drill,” linebacker Justus Rogers said of that final drive.

WSU attempted a play consisting of laterals on the kickoff but were tackled at their own 18-yard line. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a Utah State defender would bring it up to the 33-yard line for one last chance for WSU. 

A collage of laterals ended with WSU fumbling and Utah State recovering at the 50. As players looked up, the clock had hit zero and the Aggies had pulled off their biggest upset in program history. 

The team had chances to close it out, but things just did not fall into place for WSU.

“I had that in the back of my mind,” de Laura said. “We could have put them away. I feel like there were a couple of plays we did not capitalize on offensively.”

Rolovich also pointed to some issues with the team’s mentality during the game, saying on Monday, “We don’t care who wins the game. We just have to be looking forward to that opportunity to win the game. I’m not sure we were in the right mindset, which also falls on me.”

The Cougars return to action this weekend with another home game. This time, FCS opponent Portland State will visit the Cougs. Kickoff is at 3 p.m. and the game can be watched on the Pac-12 Network.

“We’re 0-1,” Rolovich said. “We have the [Portland State] Vikings coming up. We can learn from it. We need to get better.”