AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — It was a long, emotional week for Ute defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham. His former college coach, his No. 1 professional mentor and his father all passed away on Monday.

Fred Whittingham was all that and more to his eldest son.

So a football game — even a battle of conference leaders — understandably paled in importance to family concerns this week in the Whittingham home.

Even so, the Utes' 45-43, three-overtime victory over Air Force was sweet.

Kyle, who played under Fred at BYU and joined the Ute staff in 1994 when his father was the U. defensive coordinator, saw his father's impact in the waning seconds of the game.

The U. defense, outstanding through three quarters while giving up just seven points, had tired. Air Force had scored 36 points in the fourth quarter and overtime sessions and were attempting a 2-point conversion to go up by eight in the third OT.

Falcon quarterback Chance Harridge, running the option, appeared to have plenty of real estate ahead of him to get in for the score.

Then he inexplicably fell. The two-point conversion failed. Utah had renewed hope.

"My dad tripped him up," Whittingham said with a smile. "I think it was him. He snuck down, raked his ankle and tripped him up."

Whittingham almost didn't make it to the game.

"It was like 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles,' " he said, referring to the John Candy/Steve Martin comedic classic.

Whittingham didn't take the team charter Friday so he could spend extra time with his family, but he had a commercial flight set for late Friday night going to Colorado Springs. His flight was canceled. He tried finding a flight to Denver, but there weren't any available.

He thought about driving — only to find out that I-80 had been closed due to bad weather. And there were no commercial flights Saturday morning that could get him in before game time.

Finally, Ute athletic director Chris Hill rented a small Lear jet Saturday morning, flying Whittingham into Pueblo. After the hour drive to Colorado Springs, Whittingham arrived at Falcon Stadium about 45 minutes prior to the 10 a.m. kickoff.

"It was quite an ordeal, but the bottom line is that it all worked out," he said. "I'm very, very grateful to Chris Hill and Urban Meyer for allowing me to take the time I needed to be with my family."

The Ute players and coaches signed and presented the game ball to Whittingham in an emotional ceremony after the game.

"There was extra motivation for us to win this game for Kyle Whittingham and especially for his father, Fred Whittingham," said U. defensive lineman Sione Pouha.

Added safety Dave Revill, "Coach Whittingham means so much to us. He's such a great coach and a great man. We love Coach Whittingham and his family so dearly, and it was a must to have him around. Emotionally, we just felt for him and for his family, and we wanted to win this game for him."

Whittingham, who missed the majority of the practices this week to attend to family matters, was effusive in his praise of the rest of the defensive coaching staff. He also was pleased with the effort of the players — even if the Falcons scored three straight touchdowns in overtime.

"I was proud of our kids," Whittingham said.

Somehow, somewhere, Fred Whittingham was probably saying the same thing about his kid.


E-mail: lojo@desnews.com