LOGAN, Utah — Quarterback Kevin Jan finally escaped from the shadow of Damon Allen and Cal State Fullerton emerged as a bona fide contender for the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. title Saturday as the Titans rallied to beat Utah State, 32-30, at Romney Stadium.
Jan's poise and passing took the Titans 54 yards in the final minute and a half, setting up Len Strandley's 39-yard game-winning field goal with 10 seconds left as Fullerton improved its conference mark to 2-0 and overall record to 2-3. Utah State is 2-3 and 2-4.
Jan and the Fullerton offense have struggled to find consistency all season, but they finally discovered it in the second half Saturday. Jan, who had just 55 yards passing in the first half, rebounded with an Allen-like second half and finished 21 of 35 for 215 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The not-so-mobile senior isn't going to make anyone forget the elusive Allen, who passed for a school-record 2,469 yards in Fullerton's best-ever season (11-1) last year. But Jan left a lasting impression on the 9,047 who braved a chilly drizzle to see the Aggies lose a game they appeared to have won a couple of times.
Utah State running back Richard Gwynn, who plowed through an injury-decimated defense for 145 yards on 20 carries, scored his third touchdown of the day on a six-yard run with 4:56 left to put the Aggies ahead, 30-29. But Jan, working with just one timeout, brought the Titans back, completing passes of 17, 6, 10 and a key 8-yarder to tight end Jim Thornton on fourth-and-four at midfield.
"We're 2-0 and that's all that matters," a jubilant Jan said. "I didn't really play that well, but I keep getting a little better and that's important."
Jan's progress had been sluggish at best to this point in the season, but Saturday marked a "big step forward," in Titan Coach Gene Murphy's estimation.
"He really did a helluva job with the two-minute drill," Murphy said. "He showed a lot of poise."
Strandley, who was 3 of 6 on field goals and 7 of 9 on conversions when he stepped up to attempt the game-winner, said he never lost his confidence.
"I missed two last week and was down a little, but I told the coaches I could have made it from 62 when they decided to go for it on fourth," Strandley said. "I was nervous but I knew I could do the job."
The Fullerton players bolted from the sideline to a mass celebration at midfield as Strandley's kick sailed through the uprights. Murphy tried to push the mob back, but the Titans drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that could have cost them the game.
After kicking one out of bounds, Strandley kicked off from the Titan 20. Utah State got possession near midfield, gained seven yards on a quick pass before Dene Garner's 62-yard field goal attempt fell short as the game ended.
This was a game absolutely chock full of bizarre plays, too many to mention, in fact. Talk about weird, Utah State was 0 for 13 on third-down plays, but converted 5 of 5 on fourth down.
And consider the tribulations and triumphs of Titan long-snapper Kelly Ross, a 5-foot 9-inch, 180-pounder who doesn't figure to play a huge part in most games:
--He overshot the holder for the first time in his three-year career at Fullerton, probably costing the Titans a field goal.
--He recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown.
--His second errant snap probably made Strandley miss an extra point.
--He called and executed a shovel pass from the center position on a successful run out of the field goal formation.
--He declined an offsides penalty after Strandley's 23-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that would have given the Titans a first down inside the Utah State 3-yard line.
--And he made a perfect snap on Strandley's game-winner.
Now that's riding the emotional roller coaster.
It didn't look like Fullerton had much of a chance in the early going.
Utah State had a 14-0 lead with 16 seconds left in the first quarter after a three-yard touchdown run by Gwynn and an 11-yard scoring pass from Brad Ipsen to John Moore.
The Aggies ran 20 plays and gained 109 yards to build the lead, but the Titans got back in the game in a little more than a minute--thanks to Ross and Utah State's Willie Clark, who had no ups to go with his downs Saturday.
Fullerton punter Jim Sirois got a lucky bounce and his school-record punt of 69 yards rolled past Clark to the 2-yard line where the Aggie returner decided to pick it up. He slipped three tackles before fumbling into the end zone where Ross fell on the ball for a touchdown.
Clark took the ensuing kickoff, sprinted up the middle where he collided with a teammate and the ball popped free. Seldom-used Rolando Jarin grabbed it for Fullerton at the Aggie 19. Two nine-yard runs by Ricky Calhoun and a one-yard touchdown lunge by Jan cut the Utah State lead to 14-12. The Titans' two-point conversion attempt failed.
Ray Farris' 61-yard punt return set up Garner's 41-yard field goal and the Aggies led at halftime, 17-12.
The Titans got their first lead, 19-17, five minutes into the second half when Jan hit Allen Pitts on a 22-yard touchdown pass. But the Aggies forged ahead 90 seconds later when Gwynn went 28 yards up the middle to culminate a four-play, 95-yard drive that included another 28-yard Gwynn jaunt. Sophomore Garner, who must have been watching Ross-White-Strandley and Co. too much, missed the first PAT of his career and the Aggies led, 23-19.
Fullerton's offense began to click, though. Corn Redick, who surpassed the Titan career receiving yardage record in the first half, had a key 52-yard reception that set up a Jan-to-James Pruitt nine-yard touchdown pass. And Strandley's 30-yard extra point (after two illegal procedure calls) put the Titans up, 26-23.
Then, Strandley's 23-yard field goal (the one Ross liked so much he decided to let stand), put Fullerton ahead . . . momentarily, 29-23.