SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah celebrated a win over No. 25 BYU three separate times Saturday, and the Utes ultimately emerged with a 24-21 decision after a bizarre finish.
The Cougars threw an incomplete pass from the Utah 34-yard line as time apparently expired, and the home fans rushed the field to celebrate the win.
However, the replay official ruled there was one second remaining, so Justin Sorensen lined up for a 51-yard field-goal attempt to tie the game. The kick was blocked, but the fans again rushed the field while the ball was still live.
The referee assessed a 15-yard penalty, setting BYU up for a 36-yard field-goal attempt by Riley Stephenson. The kick hit the left upright, and the crowd finally got to stay on the field for good with the win secured.
Utah seemingly had the game wrapped up when it led 24-7 after three quarters, but BYU rallied for two touchdowns to set up the dramatic finish.
Jamaal Williams scored on a 7-yard run less than two minutes into the fourth quarter, and Riley Nelson threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Kaneakua Friel with less than four minutes remaining.
The Utes got one first down but then were forced to punt. BYU took over at its own 8-yard line, but Nelson marched the Cougars into Utah territory. The key play was a 47-yard pass to Cody Hoffman that set up the incompletion on which the crowd first thought the game had ended.
Utah, which beat its rival for a third consecutive meeting, outscored BYU 17-0 in the third quarter to snap a first-half tie.
Coleman Petersen put the Utes in front with a 48-yard field goal midway through the third. Mo Lee's 47-yard fumble return gave the Utes a 17-7 lead with two minutes left in the quarter. Nelson, calling an audible amid a lot of Rice Eccles-Stadium noise, never saw the snap coming.
It got worse for the visitors.
BYU was forced to punt from deep in its territory. A stealth runback was followed immediately by a 39-yard touchdown pass from Jon Hays to Dres Anderson, putting Utah in front by 17 points.
The first half was filled with penalties and punts. Utah scored early, and BYU countered with about five minutes left before halftime to make the score 7-7 at the break. It was a defensive slugfest, with field position ruling the drama.
The teams were a combined 4-for-17 on third-down conversions before halftime.
After BYU forced a punt but then started with the ball at its own 5-yard line, the first snap from scrimmage for the Cougars nearly resulted in a safety.
However, Utah defensive lineman Joe Kruger, who grew up near the BYU campus, was called for a facemask penalty in the back of the end zone that spared the Cougars an early deficit.
Not long after, Utah got a long punt return, then required just two plays to set up a 17-yard touchdown pass from Hays to Westlee Tonga.
Tonga, hauling in his second career reception, made a fancy one-handed catch to help make Hays, garnering his first start this year, gain some confidence.
Hoffman caught a 10-yard scoring pass from Nelson with less than five minutes left in the half to tie the game at 7.
Nelson completed six of 11 passes for 46 yards in the first half. Hays was 12 of 20 for 108 yards.
There were no turnovers before halftime, but there were seven combined sacks.
NOTES: Utes quarterback Jordan Wynn gave up football earlier this week, as he'll require a fourth shoulder surgery. He was on the sideline supporting his team. ... Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is now 5-3 against his alma mater. ... Utah safety Eric Rowe (hamstring) missed the game, as coaches opted to hold him until the Sept. 22 Pac-12 opener at Arizona State. ... BYU defensive tackle Russell Tialavea blocked a 37-yard field-goal attempt late in the first quarter. The senior also knocked down an extra-point attempt Sept. 8 against Weber State. ... Hoffman has caught a pass in 22 consecutive games. ... Utah and BYU are expected to take a couple of years off from the rivalry after next season.