Okpalaugo, Saunders Lift 'Dogs Past USU
Oct. 16, 2011
The Aggies (2-4, 0-1 WAC) controlled the game for the first two and a half quarters and held a 21-17 lead with the ball on the Fresno State 10-yard line late in the third quarter. After a Tristan Okpalaugo sack on third-and-goal, 6-6 Bulldog tight end Marcel Jensen blocked a 31-yard Josh Thompson field goal.
That play, along with a miraculous 23-yard catch and run by Jalen Saunders for a touchdown, turned the tides and lifted the Bulldogs (3-4) to the victory.
Fresno State, left for dead on the season by many after a 57-7 loss last week to No. 5 Boise State, now sits at 2-0 in the WAC for the first time since 2007.
"Last week we were probably at our lowest point as a 2011 football team, but I was really proud of the way [the team] responded in a very, very tough game tonight," head coach Pat Hill said.
Saunders' touchdown at 11:54 of the fourth quarter gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the game, and it was a lead Fresno State did not relinquish.
The sophomore wide receiver took a screen pass from Derek Carr on a third-and-14 on the right side of the field. He was surrounded by a pack of Aggie defenders, but somehow managed to make five USU players miss and he raced across the other side of the field to outrun two more defenders to the end zone.
"I was just trying to get as many yards as I could and I saw there was another man and thought `I can't get tackled for a loss here,' so I made the first guy miss and I made the second guy miss and it went on from there," Saunders said.
After that, Fresno State's defense took over to cap off a great second half for the `Dogs.
"We came in at halftime and adjusted based on what they were doing on offense," senior defensive tackle Logan Harrell said. "They were sticking to their run game, sticking outside and throwing short passes. So we adjusted at halftime and came out and executed it."
Utah State's three first half touchdowns were all over 45 yards and two were scored by running back Michael Smith. He opened the game with a 47-yard TD on a screen pass and ran one in from 46 yards out early in the second quarter.
Utah State had 305 yards of offense in the first half, but the Bulldogs held them to just 149 in the second half and only 34 in the fourth quarter. Utah State did not score again after Smith's touchdown run at 11:54 of the second quarter that gave the Aggies a 21-14 lead.
Okpalaugo had a coming out party on Saturday. He had a career-high eight tackles, including two of Fresno State's three sacks that all came in the second half.
After Saunders' TD gave Fresno State a 24-21 lead with just under 12 minutes to play, Okpalaugo came up big again. His sack of USU quarterback Chuckie Keeton forced a fumble that was recovered by Bulldog linebacker Jeremiah Toma on the Aggie 23-yard line.
Fresno State capitalized and got a nine-yard rushing touchdown from running back Robbie Rouse.
"I was just thinking get the ball, get to the quarterback," Okpalaugo said.
The Bulldog defense finished off Utah State from there and Harrell's sack for a loss of 12 with 1:10 remaining forced a 53-yard Jacob Haueter field goal try, which hit the cross bar and fell short to end the game.
Rouse, the Bulldog work-horse, ran for 140 yards on 24 carries and the one touchdown. It was his fifth 100-yard rushing day this season in seven games.
Carr completed 23-of-39 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns - the first of which was a 23-yard strike to Isaiah Burse in the first quarter. Burse made a great leaping grab on the play to get the `Dogs on the board when they trailed 14-0 at the time.
"It's a win. We're ecstatic about it," Carr said after the game. "The feeling of the locker room was just amazing."
Fresno State finished the game with 403 yards of offense, while the Aggies had 454.
Aggie running back Robert Turbin ran for 139 yards and had one 59-yard touchdown run in the first quarter that put USU up 14-0.
"We Are Your Team" - The Bulldogs travel to Nevada next weekend for a 1 p.m. game that is being televised by the WAC Sports Network.