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This time, Cougars able to complete comeback

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 28 2006 10:41 a.m. MST

BYU's Matt Allen jumps into the arms of Jonny Harline after Harline caught the game-winning TD pass Saturday.

August Miller, Deseret Morning News

For the second consecutive year, the big game came down to the last play.

This time, however, it was John Beck and the BYU Cougars who left the field smiling.

An 11-yard touchdown pass from Beck to Jonny Harline lifted No. 21 BYU to a dramatic 33-31 victory over Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The game-winning play ended well after time expired.

With the Utes dropping eight defenders back and not providing much of a pass rush, Beck had plenty of time to find an open receiver. His lengthy search concluded when Harline raced to the left side of the end zone.

The tight end was wide open when he dropped to his knees to make the decisive catch.

"After a while the play just kind of broke up," Harline said. "I just ran to where I thought I'd be open."

The Cougars, who had Beck take a knee on the ensuing extra-point attempt to prevent any chance of the Utes pulling even, then celebrated. They capped a perfect 8-0 season in the Mountain West Conference and defeated Utah for the first time since 2001.

Last season in Provo, the Utes escaped with a 41-34 overtime victory when a final pass by Beck fell into the end zone without being touched.

"Shoot. Last year we just came up this short. It's tough to come up that short," Beck said. "But now to be able to be a winner, it's great. It's a great feeling."

Beck, who completed 29-of-43 passes for 375 yards and four touchdowns, led BYU to scores on its final three drives. The success allowed the Cougars to rally from a 24-14 deficit in the fourth quarter.

"This was a classic game. Both teams made comebacks and showed a lot of character," Utah defensive back Eric Weddle said. "On the last play, we dropped eight and had them covered well. They just found a way to get open."

The thriller, he added, may go down as one of the best in the storied history of the series.

"This is one to remember. It was one of the greatest games in this rivalry," Weddle said. "Beck did a good job tonight and won the game at the end. He earned a lot of respect tonight."

The BYU senior led his team to an early 14-0 lead before cooling off over the second and third quarters. He heated up again down the stretch.

"I am thrilled for our seniors, captains and for the leadership in this program. I couldn't think of a more fitting way for this rivalry to play out," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "For the last two years, you've seen two teams fight their hearts out and have it come down to the last play.

"I think it is a tribute to both teams. It's a great thing for our state," he added. "I am very gratified to be undefeated in conference, and, again, I am very proud of our seniors."

Besides Beck, several other BYU veterans had solid outings. Harline led the supporting cast with seven catches for 118 yards and three touchdowns. Daniel Coats finished with six receptions and a score. Linebacker Cameron Jensen wound up with a team-high 10 tackles.

The Cougars jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, off a 1-yard touchdown run by Manase Tonga and a 36-yard scoring strike from Beck to Harline, before Utah retaliated.

While holding BYU to just 12 yards of total offense and no first downs in the second quarter, the Utes climbed back into contention. They closed the gap to 14-10 by halftime after an 18-yard touchdown pass from Weddle to Brent Casteel and a 24-yard field goal by Louie Sakoda.

Utah could have pulled even closer, but a 41-yard field goal attempt by Sakoda in the second quarter was wide left — a kick that followed a near-conversion on third down when Marquis Wilson almost hauled in a catch on the BYU 2 but was unable to hold onto it after a hard hit by cornerback Ben Criddle.

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