Late Interception Ends Utah State Comeback Attempt Against James Madison

Sep 23, 2023, 9:56 PM | Updated: 9:59 pm

Utah State head coach Blake Anderson...

IOWA CITY, IOWA- SEPTEMBER 2: Head coach Blake Anderson of the Utah State Aggies walks the sidelines during the first half of the match-up against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium on September 2, 2023 in Iowa City, Iowa.

LOGAN, Utah – A valiant comeback effort came up short as Utah State fought back from 24 down before ultimately falling 45-38 to James Madison. McCae Hillstead threw an interception on the goal line with his team trailing by seven after the Aggie defense had forced JMU’s fourth turnover minutes earlier.

James Madison (4-0) held on after building a 24-point second-quarter lead, surviving a furious Utah State (1-3) comeback attempt.

RELATED: Utah State Ties Games With 76-Yard Bomb To Micah Davis

Hillstead completed 25-of-46 passes for 399 yards and four touchdowns but it was his second interception that broke the Aggies back. After struggling early, Davon Booth gained 106 yards on the ground, getting 21 carries compared to three combined carries for Robert Briggs and Rahsul Faison.

Terrell Vaughn led USU wideouts with 10 receptions for 124 yards and his fifth and sixth touchdowns of the year. Micah Davis and Colby Bowman each had long scoring catches.

Jordan McCloud completed 23-of-34 passes for four touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. McCloud also scored twice on the ground. Reggie Brown led all players with 160 yards and two touchdowns on five catches.

RELATED: Devin Dye Interception Leads To Utah State Trick-Play Touchdown Against JMU

First Quarter

After emphasizing starting fast, Utah State got off to a disastrous start in front of their home crowd.

After receiving the opening kickoff, the Dukes needed three plays to hit on a 54-yard scoring strike from Jordan McCloud to Amarion Dollison. It was Dollison’s first catch as a Duke.

The Aggies offense then went three-and-out on three negative plays, forcing Stephen Kotsanlee to punt with his heels on the end line. Kotsanlee got the punt off and after a USU penalty, JMU took over at the Aggie 39-yard line.

After a James Madison field goal made it 10-0, the Dukes defense again forced USU to punt from its own end zone.

JMU marched down the field, scoring a touchdown to take a 17-0 lead with 4:44 left in the quarter.

The first quarter ended with James Madison knocking at the goal line after another long drive.

The Dukes outgained Utah State 193 yards of offense to negative-22 yards for Utah State. The Aggies managed to LOSE an average of 2.44 yards per play in the quarter.

Second Quarter

JMU found the end zone for the third time on the first play of the quarter to take a 24-0 lead.

Utah State moved the chains for the first time but Kotsanlee was forced to punt for the third time four plays later.

The Aggie defense came up big, forcing James Madison into a third-and-long. Sophomore Devin Dye picked on the pass attempt over the middle to put USU in scoring position for the first time.

On fourth-and-four, Elliott Nimrod came on to attempt a field goal. The junior kicker took the toss and, after breaking a tackle, sprinted 18 yards for an Aggie touchdown.

RELATED: Devin Dye Interception Leads To Utah State Trick-Play Touchdown Against JMU

James Madison answered with their second 50+ yard scoring play. McCloud hit Reggie Brown for a short gain but Brown followed a fleet of blockers for a 58-yard catch and run touchdown to make it 31-7 with 7:37 left in the half.

After being forced to run for his life for much of the first half, freshman McCae Hillstead hit Colby Bowman with a picture-perfect 63-yard touchdown pass to keep the Aggies within striking distance.

RELATED: McCae Hillstead Hits Colby Bowman For Long Touchdown As Aggies Show Life

The Aggie defense continued to give up chunk plays to the JMU offense as McCloud once again led his team on a touchdown drive. McCloud finished the 10-play, 75-yard drive with a one-yard rush to make it 38-14.

Hillstead drove Utah State into the red zone but the drive stalled, leaving Nimrod to kick a 28-yard field goal for a 38-17 halftime score.

RELATED: Week 3 Top Plays From BYU, SUU, Utah, USU, Utah Tech, Weber State

Third Quarter

The Aggies opened the second half with their first sustained drive of the night. Hillstead’s right arm and Davon Booth’s legs combined for three third-down conversions led to a 20-yard touchdown pass over the outstretched arms of two Dukes defenders for a Terrell Vaughn touchdown.

RELATED: Hillstead, Terrell Vaughn Combine For Second Half Touchdown

After USU forced a punt, Hillstead committed his first interception. Luck favored the Aggies as Jarius Reimonenq fumbled while attempting to return the INT and USU recovered. The change of possession ended up giving Utah State a free first down. Nimrod would miss a 37-yard field goal to end the drive.

Anthony Switzer ended the Dukes next drive with a toe-tapping interception in scoring territory. Hillstead drove the Aggies 24 yards before finding Vaughn for their second scoring connection of the night.

RELATED: Anthony Switzer INT Leads To Vaughn’s Second Touchdown Grab

James Madison took a 38-31 lead into the fourth quarter. The Aggie defense limited JMU to just seven rushing yards gained in the quarter.

Fourth Quarter

After trading unproductive drives Hillstead fired a deep ball down the sideline that landed right in the bread basket of junior Micah Davis for a 76-yard touchdown.

McCloud responded, finding Reggie Brown for a 74-yard catch and run touchdown to go in front 45-38 with 5:52 left.

Hillstead came back with an ‘anything you can do, I can do better’ 42-yard pass to Vaughn that put the Aggies in JMU territory. Utah State failed to convert on fourth-and-18, handing possession back to the Dukes.

The Aggie defense forced a punt with 48 seconds left but Hillstead’s third INT ended the game.

Following The Aggies With KSL Sports Zone

Utah State (1-3) completes the non-conference portion of their 2023 schedule when they take on the Connecticut Huskies (0-4) in Storrs, CT on Saturday, September 30. This game completes a home-and-home series against the Huskies. The series’ first game was a 31-20 USU win at Maverik Stadium to open the 2022 season. The Aggies are 2-0 all-time against UConn.

Utah State football games are found on KSL Sports Zone with Scott Garrard and former Aggie quarterback Kevin White (1988-89) on the call.

KSL Sports coverage of Utah State University Athletics can be found here. 

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Late Interception Ends Utah State Comeback Attempt Against James Madison