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December 8, 2013

Bulldogs fend off Aggies for inaugural Mountain West Championship




On Saturday night, when Bulldog Stadium felt like the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, the Fresno State Bulldogs braved the elements and weathered the storm that was the Utah State Aggies for the inaugural 2013 Mountain West Championship.

Playing before an announced crowd of 31,362 chilly fans, the Bulldogs shrugged off a disappointing loss last week against San Jose State and held off the pesky Aggies for a 24-17 victory.

With the victory, the Bulldogs (11-1, 8-1 MW), ensured themselves their first outright conference championship since they were members of the Big West in 1989. It's also the first time since 1992-93 that they've won consecutive conference championships.

Coming off of last week's let down against the Spartans, the Bulldogs were eager to get off to a good start.

"Getting knocked down last week was a tough blow for our guys," said head coach Tim DeRuyter. "Nobody hung their head."

Unfortunately, the game didn't start the way the 'Dogs wanted it to.

On the first play of the game, quarterback Derek Carr was sacked by Utah State's D.J. Larson. Carr would recuperate by connecting on a 15 yard catch by wide receiver Isaiah Burse for a first down, but fellow receiver Davante Adams would end up fumbling an outstanding leaping catch that was recovered by the Aggies.

After the Bulldogs forced the Aggies to turn the ball over on downs, they would eventually move the ball down the field, making some daring plays that culminated in converting on a fourth and three. But despite some offensive consistency, all the 'Dogs could muster was a 30-yard field goal by Colin McGuire that made it 3-0 with 8:36 to go in the first quarter.

The Bulldogs would eventually find the end zone, but not until the second quarter, when Carr connected with tight end Marcel Jensen on a 3-yard pass that made it 10-0.

The Bulldogs would build a 17-0 lead with 7:17 to play in the second quarter, but Aggies linebacker Jake Doughty would recover a fumble on a shuttle pass from Carr that resulted in an 86-yard touchdown for the Aggies, making it 17-7 Fresno State.

Despite a second half that was headlined more by missed opportunities and near costly turnovers, the Bulldogs were able to outlast the Aggies physical play, and at the end, when redshirt freshman safety Dalen Jones picked off Aggies quarterback Craig Harrison with: 57 seconds left to play to secure the win, the Bulldogs and their fans could finally exhale a collective cold breath into the chilly air.

"We had opportunities to win this game," said DeRuyter. "It's a credit to Utah State. Their defense forced a lot of turnovers."

For the Bulldogs defense, their physical and scrappy effort was a sort of vindication for last week's embarrassment in San Jose. Overall, the 'Dogs would yield 306 total yards to the Aggies.

"The performance that we put on against San Jose State last week is not the defense we are," said junior safety Derron Smith, who was the defensive MVP of the game. "You know, that's the way we know how to play: getting sacks, getting physical, getting turnovers; that's what leads us to have a good day on defense."

As for the Bulldogs' offense, they totaled 460 yards, with Carr collecting 404 of them on 36 of 53 passing. Senior Isaiah Burse had an impressive performance with 17 catches for 132 yards and one touchdown while fellow receiver Davante Adams had nine catches for 168 yards and a touchdown.

For Carr, this game was about the culmination of coming back for championship glory. And while it nearly slipped through his fingertips, he was able to hoist the championship trophy with pride and honor.

"It's a big reason why I wanted to come back. We had to come back and finish this thing off right," said Carr. "It was definitely a great feeling."

Up next for the Bulldogs is a trip to Las Vegas for a likely matchup against the USC Trojans in the 2013 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday, December 21.

It may not be the BCS game everybody was hoping for, but for the Bulldogs, their conference championship mission is already accomplished.


Jason Smithberg is a special contributor to FSBulldogs.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @dodgerjason.


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