Printed on: September 18, 2012
Saturday Night Lights
Utes hold off rival Cougars -- three times
EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to the late finish of Saturday night's BYU-Utah game, this game recap was not published in the Sunday edition.
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Riley Nelson converted a long fourth-down conversion in the final minute and hoped his Cougars were destined for another improbable comeback.
But just like two years ago, BYU saw its hopes of winning in Salt Lake City dashed by a missed field goal.
"It's fun to be called the gritty guy that comes back at the end and gives his team a chance to win. We had our opportunities," Nelson said after the 25th-ranked Cougars' 24-21 loss to Utah on Saturday night.
Yes, BYU certainly had chances in the chaotic end to this game. Three times, Utah fans thought it was over but the Cougars stayed alive.
The first ending occurred when Nelson's arm was hit and his pass fell incomplete and the clock counted down to zero.
"My arm got hit six or seven times during that game," said Nelson, who jumped back to his feet to plead for one more tick on the clock.
Officials reviewed the play and found indeed that one second remained when the pass hit the ground.
They cleared the field and Justin Sorensen lined up for a 51-yard attempt, only to see Star Lotulelei block it.
But the Cougars would get yet another shot, from 15 yards closer after the crowd rushed the field again while the play was in progress so Utah was assessed a penalty.
"To Utah's credit, they blocked the field goal but to J.D. Falslev's credit, he recovers and fights and scratches, trying to make a first down. His extra effort was phenomenal and gave us another chance," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
Riley Stephenson's 36-yard attempt with no time left clanked off the left upright, sending the Paint It Red crowd back on the field for good to celebrate the upset.
"The lesson learned is that you can't dig yourself a hole like that," Nelson said.
For a game that was tied 7-7 at halftime, the finish was as wild as they get. But the Cougars didn't feel they deserved to win.
"Our team didn't play clean enough football to win. I really like their heart and how they fought back and played to the very last play, but we had too many mistakes," Mendenhall said of BYU's 12 penalties and five fumbles.
"We couldn't handle the noise," said Nelson, who became the first senior BYU quarterback to lose to the Utes since 1999.
The win gave the Utes (2-1) a new outlook on the season, especially with USC's loss to Stanford and losses by fellow Pac-12 South foes Arizona State and Colorado.
The loss, meanwhile, knocked BYU (2-1) out of the Top 25, and could hurt the Cougars' hopes for something better than a Poinsettia Bowl.
Credit senior quarterback Jon Hays, a stout defense and some special team plays.
Hays passed for two touchdowns in his first start this season in place of Jordan Wynn, who suffered a career-ending shoulder injury in last week's OT loss to Utah State.
He opened the scoring with a 17-yard pass to Westlee Tonga, who had his first career TD reception.
His second, a 39-yarder to Dres Anderson, gave Utah a 24-7 lead late in the third quarter. In between, cornerback Moe Lee also returned a fumble 47 yards for another.
But the Cougars refused to quit.
Riley Nelson rallied BYU late, including a 1-yard TD pass to Kaneakua Friel that pulled the Cougars within 24-21.
He finished 17 of 35 for 206 yards, but also was intercepted once and sacked four times.
He knew he was in for a tough one when the first snap on BYU's initial possession scooted low past him. He 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.
BYU punted six plays later and Charles Hender-son's 57-yard return set up Hays' 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tonga, who made a one-handed grab over linebacker Kyle Van Noy.
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 Peter-sen'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 att-empt 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 ex-tended his consecutive game streak with a catch to 22 games.