Utah staves off No. 25 BYU 24-21By LYNN DeBRUIN, AP Sports Writer Sunday, Sep 16, 2012
SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—Two years ago, BYU saw its hopes of winning in Salt Lake City dashed by a last-second blocked field goal.
Saturday night, the 25th-ranked Cougars had two late chances only to have the same result, this time a 24-21 loss to Utah.
“Where do I begin?” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We should be 4-1 because we won this game three times.”
BYU, once down 24-7, stormed back and was driving for a potential tying field goal. A last gasp pass fell incomplete, and frenzied Utah fans ran onto the field thinking the game was over.
Not so fast. Officials reviewed the play and found that one second remained when the pass hit the ground.
The Cougars would get yet another shot, from 15 yards closer, since the crowd had rushed the field again with a live ball, and Utah was assessed a penalty.
Riley Stephenson’s 36-yard attempt with no time left clanked off the left upright, sending the Paint It Red fans back on the field for good to celebrate the upset.
“I can’t describe that ending,” Utah quarterback Jon Hays said of a game that was tied at 7 at the half. “That’s something I’ll remember when I’m 85 and with Alzheimer’s. That’s the craziest finish I’ve ever been a part of and probably the craziest I’ve ever seen. I’m happy and proud of this team.”
The loss, meanwhile, is sure to knock BYU (2-1) out of the Top 25, and could hurt the Cougars’ hopes for something better than a Poinsettia Bowl.
“Right now, all I feel is heartache,” said BYU quarterback Nelson, who waited seven years for this opportunity after a one-year stint with Utah State then a two-year church mission.
He brought BYU back with three late drives, including a 1-yard TD pass to Kaneakua Friel that pulled the Cougars within 24-21, and would finish 17 of 35 for 206 yards. But he also was intercepted once, sacked four times and was tagged with the fumble that Moe Lee returned 47 yards for a touchdown.
He blamed it on crowd noise as the snap came while he was barking out instructions.
Moe saw only the end zone.
“Once I saw Moe pick up that ball, I knew no one would be able to catch him,” said Utah defensive end Nate Fakahafua. “It was sweet to watch him run it all the way in.”
While Nelson showed grit and refused to quit, so did Hays, who was 18 of 27 for 196 yards with two touchdowns.
“Having a leadership role was nothing new to me,” said Hays, chosen to start over freshman Travis Wilson just as he filled in for an injured Wynn last year. “It was just last year, deja vu, but I’m more prepared and my play showed. Now there are no more surprises.”
The game brought plenty for the Cougars, however, starting with BYU’s opening possession.
The first snap scooted low past Nelson, who scooped it up in the back of the end zone and was about to be tackled when Joe Kruger grabbed his face mask, voiding the safety and giving the Cougars a first down at the 20.
Special teams continued to be game-changing, with Utah converting a fake punt on fourth-and-2 from its 24, only to see the drive end when Russell Tialavea blocked Coleman Petersen’s 37-yard field goal attempt.
BYU’s Sorensen, who had been injured throughout fall camp, was wide left on a 44-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter.
The Cougars finally got on the board with 4:40 left in the half on Nelson’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Cody Hoffman, who extended his consecutive game streak with a catch to 22 games.
“We were tough, resilient and bounced back from a tough loss last week and played with grit and determination,” Whittingham said. “The offense didn’t get a lot of yards but (it) didn’t turn the ball over either.”
Utah finished with just 49 yards net rushing, the first time in two years they won a game without White gaining 100 yards.
In rivalries, sometimes stats don’t matter.
“You can’t ask for more than that,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said of the two late chances. “We had two tries and you ought to be able to kick the ball through the uprights.”
Utah, which has now won three straight from its bitter rival and eight of the last 11, can only hope for more of the same.
“I’m so glad it was their kicker that hit the post,” said Utah kicker Petersen. “I’ve had that feeling and this feels much better.”