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November 27, 2010

Utes beat BYU in 17-16 thriller

It wasn't clean or crisp, and it certainly wasn't technically efficient or clinically sound, but Utah found a way to beat BYU 17-16, the game ending on a Brandon Burton blocked field goal attempt by Mitch Payne as time expired.

In front of a sellout crowd of 45,272, the Utes dug themselves a pretty good-sized hole to climb out of, trailing 6-0 at the half, and 13-0 at the end of the third quarter. But they got on the scoreboard with a Joe Phillips field goal on the first play of the fourth period, added a pair of touchdowns to take the lead, then held on for dear life.

"I couldn't be more happy for the seniors on our team going out with a win this way," exclaimed a happy/relieved Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. "This is the winningest group of seniors (in school history) and is a fitting end to their careers here."

It won't be the last game between these two old rivals, but it is the final game the Utes and Cougars will play as conference foes with Utah moving up to the Pac-12 next season and BYU trying to make a go of it as an independent.

"It was a hard-fought game that came down to the last play and we just couldn't make it happen," stated BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall. "There were a lot of mistakes on our side but I have to credit Utah with playing a good game."

"We hung around and battled adversity today and just kept fighting," Whittingham added. "The defense kept us in the game...and it was a great effort on their part."

The Utah offense had a very tough time getting untracked against BYU's revamped defense, rushing for just 11 yards on 12 carries in the first half.

It wasn't much better for Jordan Wynn and the aerial attack, Wynn hitting on just eight of his 18 first-half attempts for 113 yards, leading the Ute coaching staff to make a change at quarterback to start the second half.

Terrance Cain came out on Utah's first possession of the third quarter and after a pair of incomplete passes, threw an interception on his third attempt. BYU wound up with the ball at the Ute 23-yard line, but could not turn it into points after an incomplete pass on fourth down.

That gave Utah the ball back at its own 14, and after three first downs on the ground, Cain threw his second interception of the quarter, BYU's Shane Hunter returning this one down to the Ute 19-yard line.

The Cougars quickly turned that one into a McKay Jacobsen touchdown for a 13-0 lead, and Cain's day was done.

With Wynn back at the helm, Utah drove down to the BYU 23 yard line, where the Utes finally got on the scoreboard with a 40-yard Joe Phillips field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter, cutting the Cougar lead to 13-3.

That's when things started to heat up on a chilly afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium. BYU quarterback Jake Heaps, the highly-touted true freshman, botched a pitch attempt on the Cougars' next possession, giving the ball right back to Utah at the BYU 37.

And it didn't take long for the Utes to convert that turnover into points, Wynn hooking up with Devonte Christopher for a 37-yard touchdown on the very next play to cut the Cougar lead to 13-10.

BYU came back with an impressive 15-play, 56-yard drive that took more than six minutes off the clock, but only got three points out of it on Payne's third field goal of the game.

That made it 16-10 midway through the fourth period, which is when things really got crazy.

After the Cougar defense, which played very well all day long, forced a Utah punt, the ball went off a BYU player and was recovered by the Utes' Greg Bird. Two plays later, a Wynn pass was picked off by Brandon Bradley, but he then fumbled it right back to Utah, Kendrick Moeai coming up with the big recovery.

That led to Utah's go-ahead touchdown, a three-yard run by Matt Asiata after Wynn found tight end Dallin Rogers for a big 29-yard completion down the middle to set it up for Asiata.

The extra-point made it 17-16 Utah with 4:24 to play, giving the Cougars plenty of time to get in field goal range.

They did just exactly that by converting a third-and-9 at their own 22, then marching down the field to set it up for Payne with :04 seconds left on the clock. But Brandon Burton came up with just another one of those plays that will go down in Utah-BYU series lore, and the Utes came away with the one-point win.

"The last play was just sheer will," Burton said, "knowing we needed to make a play. I came around the left edge and was just able to lay out and get a hand on the ball."

Now Utah has to wait to find out their bowl game destination, most likely the Las Vegas Bowl with TCU getting a BCS bowl invitation.


Game Notes:

* With the win, the Utes have now won 10 or more games for three straight seasons. They are 10-2 this year after posting records of 13-0 in 2008 and 10-3 last season.

* BYU lost for just the second time under Bronco Mendenhall when leading after three quarters. The Cougars were up 13-0 going into the fourth quarter, and are now 48-2 when taking a lead into the final period of play.

* Utah held BYU to just 65 net yards rushing on 37 carries, including just four yards in the fourth quarter and 18 in the second half. The Cougars were averaging 173 rushing yards per game.

* Coincidentally, the last time a team that was trailing at the half came back to win the game in this series happened 8 years ago when the Utes were down 6-0 at home, and came back to win 13-6.

* Junior linebacker Matt Martinez (Murray H.S.) led the Utes in tackles with 17, including two tackles for loss. Fellow linebacker Chaz Walker (Davis H.S.), was second with 14.

* Utah's home attendance averaged 45,459, which ranks as the second-highest in school history behind 2008 (45,585 average).



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