SALT LAKE CITY — Before Thursday's season-opening game against Pittsburgh, Utah kicker Joe Phillips was chosen to speak to his teammates on behalf of the special teams. In his remarks, Phillips told the team he'd be there for them.
True to his word, the senior delivered.
Phillips made a 21-yard field in overtime as the 24th-ranked Utes defeated the 15th-ranked Panthers, 27-24 before a standing-room only crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"I can't even describe the feeling," Phillips said. "It's awesome."
As soon as the kick cleared the uprights, Utah's home winning streak was extended to 18 games — continuing the second best run in school history.
"That win streak is huge for us," said quarterback Jordan Wynn, who completed 21-of-36 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns. He was intercepted once.
The key pick in the game, however, came on the first play of overtime. Strong safety Brian Blechen, the only true freshman to start for Utah, picked off Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri.
"The defense bailed us out," Wynn said. "Hopefully, we'll help them out next time. We just need to execute better."
Things worked out well on the final series.
The Utes used Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata to move the ball to the 4-yard line before calling Phillips into duty.
"I'm very proud of the way our guys hung in there," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, whose squad overcame three turnovers, a blocked punt and 11 penalties.
The miscues, he added, were all things that can be improved upon before the Utes open their final Mountain West Conference campaign Sept. 11 at home against UNLV.
"We made enough mistakes tonight so we'll have plenty to work on," Whittingham said. "We had unintelligent penalties at inopportune times. But the good thing is that all of these mistakes are correctable issues. It's always better to work through these issues after a win."
And the bottom line, he added, was that the Utes made one more play than Pittsburgh did.
After exchanging field goals in the third quarter — Utah on a 26-yarder by Phillips and Pitt on a 37-yard kick by Dan Hutchins (set up when a Sean Sellwood punt was blocked inside the 10-yard line) — things tightened in the final 15 minutes.
Trailing 17-10, Pitt closed the gap on a 28-yard field goal by Hutchins with 9:48 left to play.
Utah, though, countered with a 61-yard touchdown pass from Wynn to DeVonte Christopher less than two minutes later to restore some breathing room.
It wasn't enough, however, to put the game away.
Just 48 seconds eclipsed before the Panthers roared back with a 44-yard scoring strike from Sunseri to Jon Baldwin. They then teamed on a two-point conversion to close the score to 24-21.
It remained that way until the final play of regulation. That's when Hutchins forced overtime with a 30-yard field goal. Utah tried to ice the kicker by calling a timeout before two previous attempts, one make and one miss.
In the end it didn't matter, though. The overtime belonged to Utah.
"They played extremely hard. They had a few turnovers early and we took advantage of those," said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt. "But down the stretch they made less mistakes than we did."
Despite a commanding 215-106 advantage in total offense in the first half, Utah held a slim 14-7 halftime lead.
The Utes, in fact, needed to rally after a "Shaky" start. Two fumbles by Shaky Smithson — one after a reception, the other on a punt return — stymied any early momentum.
The latter gave Pitt possession on the Utah 28-yard line seconds into the second quarter and led to the game's first score.
A 3-yard touchdown run by Dion Lewis capped a five-play drive by the Panthers. Hutchins, who was wide left on a 42-yard field goal attempt on a series that Smithson's first fumble, added the PAT to make it 7-0 with exactly 12 minutes remaining in the half.
It didn't stay that way for long.
Utah responded with its first scoring drive of the season, an 11-play, 80-yard journey that took 5:33 off the clock.
Wynn, who completed 15 of his first 17 passes, capped things off with a 19-yard touchdown strike to Brooks.
The momentum shift continued on the ensuing kickoff. Pittsburgh's Jason Douglas fumbled the return and Utah kicker Nick Marsh recovered it on the Pitt 35.
Three plays later, Wynn and Brooks teamed up again for another score. The 3-yard touchdown toss and the extra-point kick by Phillips that followed gave the Utes a 14-7 lead with 5:39 left in the quarter.
Before the half was complete, Utah had an additional chance to put points on the board. Wynn, however, was intercepted by Pitt free safety Jared Holley in the end zone with 1:39 remaining. It snuffed out a seven-play, 69-yard drive that had moved the Utes to the Pitt 7.