Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
PROVO Few, if any, games in the rivalry could match this one.
Utah's 41-34 overtime victory over BYU Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium had a little bit of everythingmomentum swings, a "circus" defense and bonus play.
And that's not all. The underdogs Utes secure bowl eligibility by pulling out a bag of tricks that included an untested quarterback coming of age and defensive back Eric Weddle being inserted at both quarterback and punter at times.
"It's the sweetest victory I've ever been a part of," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "I could not be more proud of a football team."
The Utes (6-5), who were also paced by Quinton Ganther's 131 yards and 13 tackles from Casey Evans, will now await a future that could involve a bowl invitation.
"We hope so. We think we might have a shot to get one more (game)," Whittingham said. "I've got a feeling that we might be going somewhere."
BYU (6-5), meanwhile, is pretty much assured of going bowling though the Las Vegas Bowl representative left town without issuing an official invitation.
The Cougars have now lost four straight games to the Utes.
"Give credit to Utah, they played solid. This was a hard-fought game that came down to one play," said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. " . . . Two teams fought. Two teams competed. Two team laid it on the line. What else can you want from an instate rivalry?"
How about a surprising wrinkle or two with the Utes sending in a defensive unit called the "circus" featuring speedy defensive backs and linebackers, as well as star lineman Steve Fifita?
And what about the inaugural meeting between first-year head coaches?
In the end, though, is was the conclusion that stole the spotlight.
The game-winning score came on the second play of overtime when Utah receiver Travis LaTendresse hauled in a 25-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brett Ratliff, who made his starting debut for the Utes in place of the injured Brian Johnson.
"It was a play we practiced on all week. I have a choice of going inside or outside depending on coverage," LaTendresse said. "Rat just put the ball on the money. That guy came in, stepped up and played the best of his life."
BYU's chance to counter floundered with two short runs and a pair of incomplete passes. The final throw by quarterback John Beck fluttered to the ground with receiver Michael Reed making an unsuccessful dive to catch it in the end zone.
"To feel confident and have the momentum shift in your favor and not win is a huge sway of emotions," Beck said after completing 27-of-47 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns. "I believed all the way we were going to win because I believe in our guys."
Trailing by 21 points in the second half, BYU mounted a rally that eventually tied the score by the end of regulation. The Cougars clawed back into contention with a pair of touchdown runs by Curtis Brown. His first trip across the goal line came from five yards out after bouncing off a couple of Ute defenders. The second was a 64-yard run just over one minute later.
With its lead cut to 24-17, Utah fired back with an improbable drive downfield. The Utes fended off five penalties before Ratliff teamed with Brian Hernandez on a 45-yard touchdown pass.
The score, along with a 44-yard field goal by Beardall early in the final quarter, proved critical.
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