LOGAN, Utah — For Air Force, it started a lot like the Falcons' loss to Utah State started last season — a quick strike by the Aggies and a fumble lost by the Falcons. But Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun said no one even thought about the similarities as the Aggies jumped out to a 14-0 lead in this year's matchup.
"I don't think it was about early momentum," Calhoun said after the 34-16 loss to Utah State Saturday night loss to Utah State. "We had three good scoring opportunities and only came away with six points."
The Falcons (4-2, 1-2 Mountain West) trailed at halftime 31-6.
Darell Garretson threw for 298 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for another score while Zach Vigil tallied a career-high 22 tackles, including eight for loss, to help Utah State (4-2, 1-0) soar past Air Force for a 34-16 victory Saturday night.
"Vigil made some big plays defensively, but we expected that coming in," Calhoun said.
Hunter Sharp had 164 yards and two touchdowns on 12 receptions for the Aggies who won their second straight game. Sharp had more than 100 yards receiving for the fourth consecutive game. He is the first USU receiver to accomplish that feat since Kevin Curtis had five consecutive games with more than 100 receiving yards in 2001.
"We were clicking very early in the game and it led to two touchdowns early in the game," Sharp said. "I felt like we just had one of our best games as an offense. I just would like to stay really humble about it. Week after week, I'm ending up with 100 plus yards after the game. The biggest thing for me is that we get the win. That just comes with it. It's a blessing. It's happening so fast, but I love it."Â
Kale Pearson threw for 169 yards and rushed for 43 more to lead the Falcons, who fell behind early after a mistake-filled first half. Pearson left the game in the second quarter.
"Kale got dinged up a bit. He just got thumped," Calhoun said. "We knew he was OK enough to go back in."Â
Pearson said post-game that he has what appears to be a sprained left shoulder. He said when he left the game he knew he would be returning and that he received treatment at halftime.
"We didn't get down on ourselves when it was 14-6 early," Pearson said. "We had some scoring opportunities and we shot ourselves in the foot. You're never satisfied with a loss, but we played better in the second half. It's not demoralizing. We know we can bounce back."
The Aggies forced four turnovers during the first and second quarter and scored 10 points directly off those miscues.
Utah State scored on the game's first play. Sharp hauled in a pass near midfield and raced untouched down the middle of the field for a 75-yard touchdown.
He hauled in his second touchdown catch, a 23-yard grab, to put the Aggies up 14-0 less than five minutes into the game. Air Force set up Sharp's second touchdown with its first turnover. Defensive end Jordan Nielson scooped up the ball after D.J. Johnson fumbled it at the Falcon 43 yard line.
Another fumble cost Air Force points on its next drive. Jalen Davis hit Pearson as he neared the goal line and popped the ball out of his arms before he could break the plane. It resulted in a touchback for the Aggies.
Air Force finally got on the board with a pair of field goals from Will Conan, who hit from 27 and 34 yards to cut Utah State's lead to 14-6 with 13:13 left in the second quarter.
The Falcons held USU to 77 yards rushing for the game, and toward the end of the first half, USU was limited to single-digit yards by a tight Falcon defensive line.
Defensive end Alexander Hansen said, "Stopping the runÂ is always our first priority. But we needed a better rush tonight. I like our maturity. We fight with everything we have, we just didn't make enough plays to win."
That's as close as it got for the Falcons. Utah State forced two more turnovers during the quarter and pulled away before halftime.
"That's just our mentality," Zach Vigil said. "We want to get three turnovers per game, so having four in the first half is huge. We want to play aggressive and fly around to the football. I think we did that."Â
USU head coach Matt Wells was quick to highlight Zach Vigil's defensive posture: "I thought the things that we did up front on the D-line allowed him to be able to make those plays. If he doesn't, we're in trouble. But that's players making plays. He's a tremendous player and has been since he's started the last three years. Everything he means to this program is big."Â
Utah State tacked on a fourth touchdown right before halftime when Garretson scored on a 17-yard keeper to make it 31-6 with 47 seconds remaining in the half.
Air Force finally scored its first touchdown when Shayne Davern plowed into the end zone on an eight yard run to make it 31-13 with 21 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Falcons had a chance to turn momentum completely in their favor early in the fourth. Jacob Onyechi blocked a punt to give Air Force the ball at the Utah State 14 yard line. On the following possession, Troy Timmerman stripped the ball from JoJo Natson and recovered it at the Aggie 45 yard line.
Utah State's defense limited the potential damage. The Aggies held Air Force to a 22-yard field goal from Conant after the blocked punt, then forced a punt four plays after Natson's fumble and tacked on a 35-yard field goal to make it 34-16 with 8:15 left.
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