As a disappointing season ends, USU still has one more trophy to play for

LOGAN – Utah State’s season is coming to an end Saturday. It will finish months of blown leads, close losses and a few lopsided defeats. The positives were few and overshadowed by a level of fan displeasure not seen in Logan since former head coach Brent Guy was walking the sidelines of what was then Romney Stadium.

Unlike those years, present-day Aggie fans have a taste of recent gridiron success. They expect more than three wins per year now, but that is what this football season has brought. There will be no conference championship to play for. There will be no bowl game.

There is still a chance – a slim one – of finishing this season with a trophy: one in the form of a wagon wheel.

The last time USU went into LaVell Edwards Stadium it did so as underdogs. Head coach Matt Wells brought his team into Provo, a place no Aggie football team had won since 1978. The 2014 Aggie team was up against an undefeated, 18th-ranked BYU squad.

When the scoreboard clock hit zero, an injured, smiling Chuckie Keeton walked up to the Old Wagon Wheel trophy waiting at the base of the south endzone bleachers. Just feet away from a crowd of thousands of BYU students, he grabbed it and rolled it away. With the 35-20 win, it was USU’s now.

“A lot of people doubting us out there,” Wells said soon after. “It’s a sweet win. It’s for Aggie nation.”

That same head coach who gained near-hero status in the 2014 game is now facing a bombardment of criticism from fans, some even calling for his job. A win in Provo Saturday night wouldn’t fix that, but it would be a positive end to the season and a welcome distraction from the previous 10 games.

Just like in 2014, a victory isn’t expected from hardly anyone outside the Aggie locker room, but if you ask Wells, his players aren’t throwing in the towel. He said despite the injuries and frustration, they are still giving everything physically, emotionally and mentally.

“It’s hard, but that’s why I said I respect them so much,” Wells said. “And they’ll do it one more time.”

Some oddsmakers are picking BYU to win by at least three touchdowns, and for good reason. New head coach Kalani Sitake has led his team to a 7-4 record. Those four losses are by a combined total of eight points. Like the other teams that embarrassed USU on the ground, the Cougars boast one of the nation’s top running backs. They are forcing turnovers; they are scoring points.

“The players need to get up for one game and the seniors are playing their last significant minutes in a major game,” Wells said. “It will be a tremendous atmosphere and it always is down there.”

Senior defensive end Ricky Ali’ifua said there is no doubt in his mind where the team’s effort will be Saturday. He said he knows the season hasn’t gone the way anyone wanted it to, but that the recent last-minute losses prove effort is still there.

“Everybody will be ready,” he said. “Everybody will be giving their best because that’s what’s expected of them. They know that and we’re going to be ready by Saturday.”

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