Ohio beats Utah State 24-23 in Potato Bowl
That streak of narrow wins ended Saturday when Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton scored on a 1-yard run with 13 seconds remaining to give the Bobcats a 24-23 victory in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
The loss was a heartbreaker for the Aggies, who were making their first bowl appearance since 1997 and seeking their first postseason win since 1993.
Behind a rushing attack that accounted for 345 yards, the Aggies had led the whole game — at least until Tettleton and the Bobcats offense rallied in the final 2 minutes to spoil Utah State's best season in 14 years.
Despite the disappointing finish, coach Gary Andersen insists he's not about to let his team get down.
"This season has turned young men into men," Andersen said. "It's been unbelievably gratifying to get to this point."
The Aggies (7-6) close games late early in the season, notably to Auburn in the opener and later to Brigham Young. In 10 games this season, the outcome was decided by 35 points.
But the team turned things around at the midway point, and found ways to win down the stretch. The Aggies closed with a five-game winning streak and finished second in the Western Athletic Conference.
They played well Saturday, dominating the first half and building a 23-10 lead in the third quarter behind the running of Michael Smith and Robert Turbin.
Smith rushed for a career-best 157 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns, including a 63-yarder on the opening possession of the second half. His 11-yard touchdown run later in the third put the Aggies up by 13 points. Turbin added 101 yards on 20 carries, his eighth game this season of 100 yards or more on the ground.
But this time, Utah State failed to seal the deal in the final quarter. On its last two possessions, Utah State managed just two first downs. And after taking over at its own 7 with 4:23 to go, Ohio came up with three straight stop to force a punt
Ohio took over with 2:02 remaining, just enough time for Tettleton to spoil the Aggies season.
"Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone wants to win, but everyone can't win," Smith said. "All I can do is be grateful I'm here to play this game. The sadness inside hasn't really hit me yet, because I'm shocked."
The Aggies also can point to missed opportunities.
On their first possession, the Aggies (7-6) drove to the 1, but Turbin was stopped short of the goal line on fourth down. The Aggies missed another chance late in the second quarter when a 39-yard field-goal attempt by Josh Thompson sailed wide right.
After the game, Andersen refused to point fingers, opting instead to see the game as critical for turning around a program that has struggled for years in the basement of the WAC.
"This is a tremendous, tremendous day for these kids," said Andersen, who was rewarded last week with a one-year contract extension. "It's tremendous opportunity for them to be here. It is a loss, I'm never going to sit back and say, 'That's OK, we lost.' What I am saying is it's a learning tool for us.
"We won five close games in a row, and we lost some very close game football games. Our mindset is to keep fighting for the next season when we walk back in next month."