SALT LAKE CITY — BYU's defense did nearly everything it could to win the rivalry game against Utah. And the offense fashioned an impressive late drive that put the Cougars in position to earn a last-second victory.
But in the end, it wasn't enough.
BYU shut out the Utes through three quarters, but in the decisive fourth quarter, turnovers and other mistakes doomed the Cougars in a 17-16 setback Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Utah's Brandon Burton blocked Mitch Payne's 42-yard field goal attempt as time expired and BYU's upset bid failed.
"It's a bummer to lose that way. I thought both teams played very hard," said true freshman quarterback Jake Heaps. "It's really unfortunate that it came down to that last play. I really thought we had the game won at that point. Utah just made a good play and stepped up big when they needed to and won the game."
"They earned it. On that last play, they made the play, we didn't," said Cougar safety Andrew Rich. "I would say there's a little frustration with the way that we finished the game. Obviously, we could have finished a little bit cleaner. That's the way football is ... Their offense is really explosive and they average a lot of points. I thought our defense played phenomenal."
The Cougar defense recorded three interceptions, but the offense surrendered four turnovers, including three fumbles.
"I think there were a lot of mistakes at the end of the game," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "But you have to credit the University of Utah for forcing some of those mistakes."
Leading 6-0 early in the third quarter, BYU linebacker Jameson Frazier intercepted a Terrance Cain pass and returned it to the Utah 23-yard line. The Cougars ended up with a fourth-and-one at the Utah 13. Instead of kicking a field goal to potentially go ahead 9-0, BYU opted to go for it. Heaps threw to Cody Hoffman, which was broken up by Burton.
Still, the Cougars ended up taking a 13-0 advantage on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Heaps to McKay Jacobson, who caught seven passes for 92 yards.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Utes nailed a field goal, then after a Heaps fumble, added their first touchdown on a 37-yard touchdown pass to make the score 13-10.
BYU's final points came on a 42-yard field goal by Payne.
After holding the Utes on their ensuing drive, the Cougars were snake-bitten when a shanked punt by Joe Phillips grazed BYU's B.J. Peterson's leg and Utah recovered.
The ball changed hands again when BYU cornerback Brandon Bradley intercepted Jordan Wynn, then fumbled. Utah recovered again and cashed in with a touchdown to take its first lead of the game, 17-16.
Heaps responded by leading the offense from his own 21-yard line to the Utah 24 with less than one minute remaining by completing five consecutive passes.
"There was no stopping us at that point," Heaps said. "We drove right down the field and we made plays when we needed to. It was a blast seeing our guys pull through. I was really proud of my guys."
Then the Cougars called three straight running plays to Bryan Kariya up the middle to set up a potential game-winning field goal.
"I think that was the right thing to do. We were securing a victory," Heaps said of that series of play calls. "All we needed was a field goal. We didn't need nothing more than that. There's no point in trying to do more. It's just one play away from having it be something totally different."15 comments on this story
"We only needed two points to win," said running back JJ Di Luigi. "We just wanted to get it in the middle of the field and march the clock down as much as possible so they wouldn't have a chance after we kicked the field goal."
On that final play, "I was on my knees praying for it," Heaps said. "My heart just sank when I saw it all happen."
The loss snapped BYU's four-game winning streak as the Cougars fell to 6-6 overall.
"We had an opportunity and we just kind of let it fall through our fingers," Payne said. "We're all just a little disappointed."