Utes hit first place, topple Air Force in 3 OTs

By and

It seemed as if all the odds were stacked against the U football team Saturday against Air Force.

Defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham missed the entire week of practice, running back Brandon Warfield was out with a sprained knee, and the team was playing in Colorado Springs against an Air Force team that was tied with the U for first place in the conference.

“It was one of the most difficult weeks we have had,” U football coach Urban Meyer said.

Even with all the difficulties, the Utes defeated Air Force in the fourth overtime game in Utah football history, 45-43.

Last season against the Falcons, the Utes gave up a 23-3 lead at halftime and lost the game by three. It looked like dj vu Saturday, as the Utes were leading 17 7 and gave up the lead late in the fourth.

In the first half, the Utes had 265 yards to the Falcons’ 118. But in the second half, the roles were reversed as the Falcons had 240 while the Utes totaled 168.

With time in the fourth quarter waning, the Utes punted deep in their own territory and Air Force received the ball in good position to win the game.

However, a 50-yard field goal by Air Force kicker Joey Ashcroft was blocked and the game was forced into overtime.

With Warfield out of the game, the running back role shifted to freshman Mike Liti, but tight end Ben Moa was the Utes’ major goal-line threat.

Liti rushed the ball 12 times for 47 yards and scored twice, but didn’t see the ball after a late fumble that led to a Falcon field goal.

Even though Liti didn’t play as well as he did last week, the Utes’ running game did not die, as Moa was the key player out of the backfield, especially in the overtime period.

“We needed someone to step up and he did that today. All the players worked really hard,” Meyer said.

In the first overtime, Air Force quarterback Chance Harridge scored this third rushing touchdown of the day, but Moa responded with his second touchdown of the game.

Ute quarterback Alex Smith threw an 18-yard strike in the second overtime to Paris Warren, which was the sophomore quarterback’s only touchdown pass of the afternoon.

Even though Smith only threw one touchdown pass, he threw for 297 yards and rushed for another 89.

His streak of passes without an interception ended Saturday, but it seemed that Smith played better after throwing the pick.

“He is getting better every single week,” Meyer said.

Harridge answered Smith’s touchdown with his first touchdown pass of the game to Alec Messerall.

After the second overtime, by rule each team has to go for the two-point conversion after a touchdown. The Falcons scored first, but on the two-point try, Harridge slipped on a cutback and the try failed.

The Utes then drove down to the goal line, but couldn’t put it in and faced fourth and goal. Moa lined up as the quarterback-as he had on the previous two touchdowns-and jumped over the line for his third touchdown of the game.

Earlier in the year, the Utes needed a two-point conversion against Texas A&M and ran a play where the quarterback was given the option to run or pass as he rolled out.

The play failed against the Aggies, but the Utes ran it last week against New Mexico and it was successful.

But the Utes didn’t run that play against Air Force.

“We didn’t feel like it was the best play to run at that time,” Meyer said.

Instead, the Utes lined up Moa at quarterback again, but the Utes didn’t run and completely fooled the Falcons.

Air Force had to respect Moa running the ball, since he already had three rushing touchdowns, but Moa faked the run and threw a rainbow pass over the defense to an open Matt Hansen to win the game.

“We practice a few plays a week for the two-point conversion and that is one of them,” Meyer said.

The win was huge because it broke the tie between the Falcons and the Utes at the top of the conference standings. Not only did the win give the Utes the lead over Air Force, but on Saturday Colorado State and New Mexico lost, which gives the Utes the inside track on the outright conference title going into their bye week.

If the Utes defeat Wyoming and BYU to finish the season, Utah will win its first outright MWC title.

“These guys worked so hard today, and they don’t know it yet, but I am going to give them a day off on Monday,” Meyer said.

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