Utes Allow Pair of TDs in Last Three Minutes of Game

PROVO?The Utah football team said that if it could control the clock with its power-running, ball-control offense, if it could keep BYU quarterback Brandon Doman contained in the pocket, if it could swarm Cougar running back Luke Staley, then it could knock off the eighth-ranked and undefeated Cougs.

And the Utes did it all for the first 44 minutes, 13 seconds of Saturday’s game.

The last 5:47, however, saw the Utes fall apart, the Y come to life and the Cougars’ 10-year streak of home futility versus Utah come crashing to an end.

Staley scored a pair of touchdowns in the final 3:11, and Doman led a last-minute scoring drive against the Utes for the second time in as many years, as BYU erased an 11-point fourth quarter deficit to stun the Utes 24 21 and win the Mountain West Conference title.

“It’s frustrating?we had them all the way through until the last five minutes,” said junior defensive tackle Garrett Smith. “We felt like we should have stopped them, but we didn’t.”

The Ute defense, which had held Doman and Staley in check all day, figured it could protect the team’s 21-10 lead with less than six minutes to go, especially when U punter Brian Lewis pinned the Cougars on their own 8-yard line.

But with four straight plays ranging between 14 and 32 yards, BYU capped off an 8-play, 92-yard drive with a 7-yard hook-up between Doman and Staley in just 2:25. Staley’s 2-point conversion pulled the Cougars within three points.

“Obviously, they’re a very dangerous football team. But there’s no way they should go 92 yards for a score?you can’t let that happen,” said U coach Ron McBride.

And when Utah could kill only a minute with three plays on the ensuing possession, BYU’s eventual game-winning score seemed almost inevitable.

The Cougars needed only 55 seconds to go 59 yards, taking the lead when Doman froze the Utes on the option, pitched to Staley, and watched him rumble 30 yards around the right side and into the end zone.

“The defense just let it get away?we let Staley get the better of us,” said senior linebacker CR Dwinnell. “It kind of snowballed?they just started making plays on us.”

Then again, the Utes felt it should never have come to that.

While BYU had its chances throughout the game?including Rod Wilkerson and Andrew Ord beating the U secondary on deep post routes, only to have the ball careen off their fingertips?for the most part, the Utes were in total control.

By halftime, the Cougars had gained just 161 yards and scored only three points?on a 35-yard field goal by Matt Payne.

Meanwhile, the Utes took advantage of a Doman miscue, with Dwinnell sneaking up from underneath coverage on a crossing route, picking off the senior quarterback and returning it 28 yards. A personal foul penalty on the Cougs moved the ball to their own 26-yard line, and four plays later, Lance Rice hooked up with Dennis Smith for a 13-yard score and a 7-0 lead.

And so it continued throughout. BYU, which came in leading the nation in scoring and averaging nearly 60 points per home game, could not get the ball into the end zone until the final minute of the third quarter, while the Ute running tandem of Dameon Hunter and Adam Tate each had touchdown runs to build the 21-10 lead.

“I thought our defense played great,” McBride said. “You’ve got the No. 1 scoring team at 10 points in the fourth quarter?You feel you’ve got them where you want them, you feel like you’re in great shape.”

And so some of the Utes couldn’t help but start to think that they’d be extending their Provo win streak to five and dashing the Cougars’ BCS aspirations.

“Obviously, we knew we had to stop them, but in the back of our heads, we were thinking, ‘We’ve got this,'” Dwinnell said.

And why not? With Hunter rushing 21 times for 106 yards, and Tate adding 64 more on the ground, Utah wound up with more than 34 minutes of possession time.

But when the Utes most needed to keep the ball in their hands, they couldn’t do it.

On Utah’s possession preceding Staley’s touchdown reception, Hunter was stuffed for one yard on a third-and-3, forcing Lewis to punt. On their next drive, the Utes had to give it up again when Tate ran for 2 yards on consecutive plays, and Rice’s third-down pass to Josh Lyman fell errantly to the ground.

“If we just get one first down or two first downs, we run some minutes off the clock and the game’s over,” Rice said. “We needed to put the hammer down and we didn’t.”

McBride was even more blunt about his team’s late-game come apart, stressing the importance of his team’s failure to continue the fundamentals all the way until the final whistle.

“All we needed was two first downs. If you can’t get two first downs, you don’t deserve to win,” McBride said. “If the offense just could have been a little more productive?”

Despite the final-minutes failings, Utah still had one more chance, though. Payne missed BYU’s last PAT attempt, and the kickoff gave the Utes the ball at their own 17 with 1:11 to go.

Rice completed consecutive passes of 16 and 13 yards to wideout Paris Jackson, then hit tight end Michael Richardson for a 22-yard gain. After three incompletions, Rice converted a fourth-and-10 on a bit of subterfuge, hitting offensive lineman Jordan Gross for a 13 yarder on a tackle-eligible play.

But, at BYU’s 30-yard-line, with 16 seconds to go, the Utes opted to try and get a little closer, not trusting placekicker Ryan Kaneshiro’s suspect leg strength?”If we’re outside the 20, he’s probably not going to be able to kick it,” McBride said?and the inability to even attempt a game tying field goal wound up haunting them.

Rice tried to hit Cliff Russell on the wide side of the field, only to have BYU sophomore corner Jernaro Gilford step in front, pick it off and return it to the 45 with seven seconds left.

“I just threw it a little too late, and I thought maybe Cliff ran his route a little shorter, and [Gilford] made a great break on it. But I probably should have gone to the other side of the field,” Rice said. “[I thought], ‘Oh, s***.’ I knew the game was over.”

Ultimately, the Utes knew they could have won it?probably should have won it. They did everything right?until the final six minutes of the final period.

“The coach always talks about winning the fourth quarter, and we just came up short,” said sophomore safety Arnold Parker. “We didn’t get it done.”

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