PROVO, Utah (AP)—Playing with a sprained shoulder, Max Hall had one final chance to save BYU against rival Utah.
All he had to do was convert on fourth-and-18 from his own 12 with barely a minute remaining. Hall scrambled to his right to buy a little time, then threw the ball as far as he could—right to teammate Austin Collie for a 49-yard gain.
The play with 1:05 left kept the No. 23 Cougars’ final drive going and led to Harvey Unga’s 11-yard touchdown run with 38 seconds remaining in BYU’s 17-10 win over the Utes on Saturday.
“We call it ‘magic happens,”’ Hall said. “Certain things happen to allow you to win games and I think that was definitely a magic play.”
Much like it was a year ago, when the Cougars (9-2, 7-0) beat the Utes 33-31 on John Beck’s pass to Jonny Harline as time expired.
BYU (9-2, 7-0) clinched its second consecutive outright Mountain West Conference championship. The Cougars haven’t lost an MWC game since the Utes (8-4, 5-3) won here two years ago.
That game ended when Beck’s fourth-down pass fell to the ground in overtime. Just 12 yards outside the same end zone, it was up to Hall to avoid another loss to the Utes.
“There wasn’t any panic on the sideline. There wasn’t any loss of composure,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
From there, the Utes self-destructed and their seven-game winning streak came to an end. After the fourth-down conversion, Utah gave BYU 30 extra yards on two penalties to set up Unga’s touchdown run.
Utah had just taken a 10-9 lead by driving 69 yards for Darrell Mack’s 1-yard touchdown run with 1:34 left to play.
“We thought we had them,” Utah linebacker Joe Jiannoni said.
Not in this rivalry. For the 10th time in the last 11 meetings, the game was decided by a touchdown or less.
Unga ran for 141 yards and BYU’s only touchdown. Mitch Payne kicked three field goals for the Cougars, who held Utah to 125 yards of offense for the first three quarters.
Hall completed 13 of 29 passes for 149 yards and a 3-point conversion to Collie after Unga’s touchdown run.
BYU capped the rally by knocking down Brian Johnson’s pass in the end zone on the final play.
“It was tough to swallow. Each team touched the end zone only one time,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “It came down to the wire just like last year, and unfortunately it went the other way.”
Just after Johnson’s incomplete pass landed, BYU fans rushed the field to celebrate the Cougars’ first back-to-back wins over Utah since 2000-2001. The Cougars stayed on the field and were presented with the MWC championship trophy in a long celebration.
The Utes walked off to the locker room, stunned after another heartbreaker to the Cougars.
“It tears your gut out when you lose like this, but it’s by no means the end of the world,” Johnson said.
Utah had started the conference season 0-2 and needed a win Saturday to keep the Cougars from clinching another outright title.
BYU won its 15th straight Mountain West game and can wrap up a second straight unbeaten season in the league next week at San Diego State. The Cougars also won for the 12th straight time at home, where they haven’t lost since the Utah game two years ago.
BYU shut down Utah’s offense until Johnson led a 69-yard drive that put the Utes ahead on Mack’s run with 1:34 left to play. Utah converted four times on third down during the drive, after going 1-for-10 in the first three quarters.
Johnson finished 17-for-29 for 129 yards with two interceptions for the Utes, who had only 50 yards of offense at halftime.
“They’re not No. 23 in the country for no reason,” Johnson said.