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September 18, 2014

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Aggies hold on, 43-44

After leading 21-0 at the half, Utah State survives a wild rally by Ball State to win the Las Vegas Bowl.

Utah State shut out Ball State in the first half of the Las Vegas Bowl Friday night at the Silver Bowl, and held on for a wild 42-33 finish.

For the Aggies, it was their first bowl victory in five tries and first bowl appearance since 1961.

“We could have gone 9-2 this year, but we also could have easily gone 3-8 or something,” said Utah State coach Charlie Weatherbie, who led the Aggies to a 7-5 record. “You have to have a first to have history and this team did an exceptional job fighting back. All this team thought about while winning its last six games was the next game.”

Utah State quarterback Anthony Calvillo was selected as his team’s MVP by the media after shredding the Cardinals for 286 yards passing and three touchdowns.

“We weren’t going deep, we just took the short stuff that they were giving us,” said Calvillo, who also threw two first half interceptions.

Profail Grier, who gained 209 yards against UNLV in the Silver Bowl during the regular season, rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns against Ball State.

“I love running on this turf,” Grier said. “I was able to make some great cuts. I’m going to try to get coach Weatherbie to put in some turf in our stadium.”

Toney Jenkins was Calvillo’s leading receiver with 94 yards on five receptions.

Quarterback Mike Neu, who threw for 239 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, was chosen as Ball State’s bowl MVP.

“We didn’t do anything in the first half and my effort wasn’t what it should have been,” Neu said. “We were a different team in the second half. We didn’t help out our defense at all in the first half.”

While Ball State made a couple of runs at the Aggies in the second half, Utah State won the game by being dominant in he first half. Ball State didn’t take advantage of two second quarter interceptions and managed just 31 yards of total offense in the first half. Only 73 of Ball State’s 312 yards came on the ground.

Meanwhile, Utah State gained 329 of its 491 yards in the first half on the way to a 21-0 lead at the break.

“You have to give Utah State credit for disrupting our offensive rhythm and taking away our running game,” said Ball State coach Paul Schudel whose Mid-American Conference champion Cardinals finished 8-3-1. “They were well-prepared and they took away some things by selling out on some things. They had four guys coming hard at us off the line of scrimmage every play and that hurt us three times on our flanker screen plays.”

The second Las Vegas Bowl sold 15,508 tickets, however bowl officials would not reveal the actual attendance which appeared to be a few thousand fewer than the figure released.

Utah State took the short passing lanes the Ball State defense left open in the first quarter and turned two long drives into 14 points.

The Aggies drove 73 yards on their opening drive for a touchdown. Calvillo threw a 22-yard scoring pass to Cotie McMahon just 4:33 into the game. Calvillo set up the touchdown pass with a 30-yard screen pass to Jenkins.

Utah State then drove 92 yards on its second possession to make it 14-0. The Cardinals, sticking to a asic zone coverage, couldn’t keep Calvillo contained. Twice he ran away from pressure. Once he ran 10 yards for a first down. And then he completed a 23-yard pass to Jenkins at the Ball State 14.

Two Grier runs and a Ball State face mask later and the Aggies led 14-0 with 2:34 left in the first quarter.

The Cardinals began to figure out Calvillo in the second quarter when Malawi Hills and Kevin Johnson each made interceptions. The only offense the Cardinals could muster in the first half was a 49-yard field goal attempt by Matt Swart, which was at least 15 yards short.

The Aggies made a statement on their last drive of the first half when they drove 68 yards for touchdown despite committing three penalties for 35 yards on the drive and Grier tripping for a 6-yard loss.

In an amazing demonstration of perseverance on the 17-play drive, Calvillo scrambled for 15 yards on a third down and 16 play. Grier converted a fourth and 1. Jenkins caught a 19-yard reception on third and 32.

Aubrey Thompson caught a 2-yard pass from Calvillo with 24 seconds left in the half to give Utah State a 21-0 lead at the break.

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