It ended up being a bit too close for comfort, but No. 23 Fresno State did emerge victorious in the first ever Mountain West Conference championship game, winning 24-17 over Utah State.
Fresno State's offense got off to a bit of a slow start, but eventually woke up to take an early 17-0 lead, thanks to a Colin McGuire 30-yard field goal and two touchdown passes by Derek Carr. The senior quarterback was briefly xamined for a shoulder injury in the second quarter, but that was about it as far as his troubles went in the first half -- he threw for 324 yards on 24-of-32 passing in those 30 minutes alone.
Utah State did show some fight in closing to 17-7 right before halftime, thanks to a fumble by Josh Quezada that was returned for a touchdown.
Other than that miscue, the first half was almost all Fresno State, as the Bulldogs -- normally known for their offense -- held USU to just 152 yards and 2-of-8 on third down conversions. They also punished Aggie quarterback Darrell Garretson repeatedly, sacking him seven times overall and hitting him many more.
The second half would be a different story.
Fresno State had many opportunities to pull away after halftime, but the Aggies continued to hang within 10 for most of the third quarter, thanks to two Brian Suite interceptions of Carr. Still, the Bulldogs entered the fourth quarter up 24-7 behind Carr's third touchdown -- this one to Davante Adams.
Chances seemed slim enough for Utah State at that point, with the 17-point deficit. They then lost Garretson to an apparent head injury, which made those chances look even slimmer. Still, the Aggies fought.
Utah State's Bruce Natson actually scored a short touchdown after Garretson's exit, cutting the gap to just ten. They then recovered the ensuing onside kick and were able to tack on another field goal to close to within a touchdown at 24-17. Fresno State aided in that by committing several ill-advised penalties to keep Utah State on the field.
After Quezada was stuffed on a 4th-and-2 that could have ended the game, Utah State had a little over three minutes to drive for the tying score, but couldn't, as Craig Harrison -- in for Garretson -- was sacked on 4th down.
It looked like Fresno State would hang on for a victory after that, until Tim DeRuyter created some unnecessary drama by opting to go for a game-icing fourth down rather than kick a 39-yard field goal.
Quezada ended up being stopped short again as a result, giving it back to Utah State again, now with only 1:42 to go. The Bulldogs would come up with an interception of Harrison to finally end the game. Two Carr kneeldowns later, and their fans began to stream onto the field in celebration.
Box Score Hero: Carr threw for 412 yards, but Adams takes this with a nine-catch, 168-yard performance. He also scored.
Rankings Ramifications: Fresno State may see a slight bump, with No. 20 Duke and No. 14 NIU both losing.
But Did They Cover? Fresno State was a three point home favorite. They did cover.
For More On This Game: Hit up Mountain West Connection for all things MWC.
Next Week's Schedule: Both teams are going bowling, although neither know where just yet.