Time and time again the Aggies defense answered the bell, hurrying and frustrating Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch all night. On the night Utah State’s defense recorded a forced fumble, interception, two sacks, two missed field goals, and a turnover on downs.
San Diego native Joey DeMartino, rushed for 143 yards and a touchdown for the Aggies on his way to earning Offensive MVP Honors.
The first quarter saw both teams unable to capitalize after starting with solid field position. After a short punt by Northern Illinois, the Utah State offense was unable to move the ball and freshman kicker Jake Thompson missed a 52-yard field goal. Starting with great field position of their own, Northern Illinois looked to get on the scoreboard, but Utah State’s senior lineback Jake Doughty forced a fumble by NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch on the second play of the drive, and safety Brian Suite recovered the ball.
The Aggies then opened the scoring as they strung together an 8-play, 32-yard drive, capped by a 31-yard field goal by Nick Diaz. The Huskies looked ready to respond as they marched 55 yards down the field, but once again the Utah State defense held firm and forced a missed field goal. One possession later Diaz added a 39-yard field goal for a 6-0 lead.
Northern Illinois got on the board after an impressive 15-play, 78-yard drive. During the drive, the Huskies used a steady dose of rushing, led by Lynch and running back Cameron Stingily. The two combined to for the final seven plays of the drive, ending with a 1-yd touchdown run by Lynch to give the Huskies the lead. The Huskies had a chance to add to their lead at the end of the second quarter, but the Utah State defense stood their ground on a 4th-and-3 to end the NIU drive.
On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, Suite continued his solid defensive performance as he intercepted Lynch’s pass and seven plays later Aggies QB Darrell Garretson hit Brandon Swindall in the endzone with a 5-yard touchdown pass as Utah State regained the lead, 13-7.
The Huskies had a golden opportunity to score after defensive tackle Ken Bishop intercepted Darell Garretson’s deflected pass at the Utah State 14-yard line. But, as they did all night, the Aggies defense shut down Lynch and company on three straight downs, and then Northern Illinois kicker Mathew Sims missed a 29-yard field goal, his second miss of the night.
From there Utah State strung together a back-breaking 17-play, 80-yard scoring drive that chewed up over seven minutes of the game clock. DeMartino dominated the drive, as he tallied 53 yards and a touchdown, capping a great night for the hometown product. The Aggies converted the two-point try to extend the lead to 21-7 with just over four minutes to play.
Northern Illinois gave the Aggies a scare at the end, as Lynch found Juwan Brescacin in the endzone on a 4th-and-10 to cut the lead in half with 1:44 to play. But the late-game magic that has become so common in San Diego’s bowl games was not to be, as the Utah State special teams unit recovered the onside kick to seal the victory.
Utah State senior linebacker Jake Doughty earned the game’s Defensive MVP award, tallying eight tackles, 1.5 TFL and a forced fumble.