Utes bowl over Buffaloes, end season 8-4

After struggling mightily to get the Utes moving on offense in recent weeks, Utah quarterback Travis Wilson finally found some success throwing downfield. Wilson outdueled Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau, and the Utes escaped Boulder with a 38-34 win over the Buffaloes on Saturday.

The much maligned Ute quarterback completed 25 of his 37 passes for 311 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, while Liufau had one of his more efficient outings of the season, completing 20 of his 31 pass attempts for 317 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

Wilson threw his first touchdown on the opening play of the second quarter. With his team down 7-3 after an opening touchdown from Colorado, Wilson found receiver Kaelin Clay streaking down the middle of the field for a 34-yard touchdown strike to put the Utes up three with 14:54 remaining in the first half.

After Liufau and the Buffalo offense drove down the field and retook the lead 14-10, Wilson found sophomore receiver Delshawn McClellon on a 55-yard bomb to set the Utah offense up for first-and-goal from the Colorado seven-yard line. Four plays later, Wilson once again found Clay on a two-yard slant route for his second touchdown of the afternoon. Clay would finish the afternoon with 88 yards on 10 receptions and a pair of touchdowns.

The Utes took a 16-14 lead after kicker Andy Phillips failed to convert the ensuing PAT — his first miss of the season.

In a back-and-forth affair for most of the game, the Buffaloes again pulled ahead on a 33-yard touchdown run from running back Christian Powell with 5:20 remaining in the first half. Powell, who finished with 75 yards on 10 carries for three touchdowns, made the most of his carries against a depleted Utah defense that was missing starters safety Tevin Carter, linebacker Gionni Paul and defensive end Hunter Dimick.

The remainder of the first half was dominated by Colorado as the Utah offense was unable to gain a yard after Clay’s second touchdown. The Utes took an eight point deficit into halftime after Buffalo kicker Will Oliver connected on a 29-yard field goal try with 16 seconds left in the half.

The beginning of the second half was where things began to turn in favor of the Utes.

On third-and-nine from their own 26-yard line, it appeared Wilson’s pass intended for Clay was intercepted by Colorado’s Terrel Smith. After further review the officials determined the ball touched the ground, resulting in an incompletion. On the ensuing play, punter Tom Hackett took the snap and scurried toward the sideline for a 24-yard pickup to give the Utes new life at the 50-yard line.

The next play, Wilson found tight end Westlee Tonga for a 42-yard gain that resulted in a one-yard Devontae Booker touchdown run two plays later to pull within two of the Buffaloes, 24-22.

On the next Colorado possession, Oliver connected on a 46-yard field goal attempt to increase the Buffaloes’ lead to 27-22.

The Utes claimed their first lead of the second half on the ensuing drive when Wilson hit Tonga for a 28-yard touchdown completion. After a second failed two-point attempt, the Utes led the Buffaloes 28-27 with 6:37 remaining in the third quarter.

That lead was short-lived as Liufau found his top receiver Nelson Spruce for a 66-yard catch-and-run touchdown to put the Buffaloes back on top, 34-28.

The game entered the fourth quarter with a 34-31 score in favor of the underdog Buffaloes, who were searching for their first conference victory of the season. The Utah defense had other plans.

With 9:49 remaining in the game, sophomore cornerback Dominique Hatfield sniffed out a Liufau screen pass and took it back 20 yards for a touchdown to put the Utes up for good.

With a 38-34, lead the Utah defense clamped down on Liufau and the Colorado offense. After forcing the Buffaloes to punt with 3:48 remaining in their season, Devontae Booker and the offense finished the job with a strong rushing performance in the final quarter to kill the clock and seal the Utes’ eighth victory of the 2014 regular season.

Utah will now await an invitation from a variety of Pac-12 bowl game affiliates, including the Foster Farms Bowl in San Francisco, the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, the Sun Bowl in El Paso, or the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas.

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