SALT LAKE CITY — At game's end, Utah senior Matt Asiata stood near the 50-yard line with tears in his eyes. He didn't have much to say as fans stormed the field after the Utes' dramatic 17-16 win over BYU.
"I'm just happy," Asiata said while observing the celebration and chaos at Rice-Eccles Stadium. "I'm happy."
So, too, were all of his teammates and everyone else associated with the program.
As soon as Lamar Chapman fell on the ball after Brandon Burton's game-saving block of a BYU field goal attempt, the party got started.
Recent frustrations against the Cougars, resulting in late losses, were eased by the decisive final play on Saturday.
"It was good for our players to be able to have things go our way this time," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
Zane Taylor and Sealver Siliga, who are team captains along with Asiata and Christian Cox, agreed.
"We went into this game wanting to have no regrets and leave everything out on the field. We did that," Taylor said. "It's the best feeling in the world. Speaking for the seniors, it's the best way to end our career at Rice-Eccles Stadium. This feeling is indescribable."
It felt so good, he added, to finally give BYU a taste of its own medicine by winning on the last play.
"It feels great to be on the other side," Siliga said. "It feels great to give it to them the way they've been giving it to us."
The Utes were satisfied for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is bragging rights.
"It's just great to be the state champs," Siliga said.
Winning the Beehive Boot, though, didn't come easy.
Utah's offense struggled mightily early on. The Utes punted five times in the first half. Their other drive resulted in a rare miss by kicker Joe Phillips, who was wide right on a 45-yard attempt in the second quarter.
"It was my fault. I didn't swing all the way through. That's why it got a little bit to the right," Phillips said. "I just hit it with my toe."
The Utes trailed 6-0 at halftime and had just 11 yards rushing on 12 attempts. The inability to run the ball also affected the passing game. Quarterback Jordan Wynn was just 8-of-18 for 113 yards, 60 of which came on a completion to Jereme Brooks.
"It's hard to throw the ball when everyone knows you have to throw it," Whittingham said.
Wynn was replaced by backup Terrance Cain in the second half. Cain, however, threw two interceptions and Wynn was reinserted to finish the game and Whittingham was pleased with how he responded.
Utah's offense later scored 10 points in a span of 1:10. Phillips opened the outburst with a 40-yard field goal and Wynn capped it with a 37-yard touchdown pass to DeVonte Christopher, who made a nifty grab over a BYU defender for the score.
A punt and another interception followed. The latter came on a controversial play where tight end Kendrick Moeai wrestled the ball away from BYU's Brandon Bradley. The fumble recovery set up what proved to be the game-winning touchdown drive. A three-play, 38-yard series concluded with a 3-yard run by Matt Asiata and a PAT by Phillips with 4:24 remaining.
"We just kept plugging away. We didn't lose the faith," Taylor said. "We got ourselves together just like we always do and put things together when it really mattered to get a lead."
The 17-16 advantage remained intact as Utah reached the 10-win plateau for the third consecutive year.
"I'm pleased with how our guys were able to hang in there," Whittingham said. "We had to battle some adversity."
The defense, he added, is what kept the Utes in contention throughout the game.
Utah forced BYU to punt four times, throw an interception and lose the ball on downs before surrendering a touchdown late in the third quarter. The 21-yard scoring strike from Jake Heaps to McKay Jacobson, coupled with the first half field goals by Mitch Payne and the PAT, made it 13-0.
The Utes' rally followed, cutting the deficit to three points. Payne later added a 42-yard field goal to push BYU's lead to 16-10. It followed the first of three fumbles down the stretch. The Cougars' final drive ended with Burton's block.
"I had a blast," said safety Brian Blelchen, who had Utah's lone interception. "I knew what kind of what to expect, but I had a feeling it was going to be beyond that even and today it was."
Utah's other defensive stars include linebackers Matt Martinez and Chaz Walker, who finished with 17 and 14 tackles, respectively.
Greg Bird and Junior Tui'one had fumble recoveries, joining Moeai.
It all, however, came down to Burton's block to settle the issue in a rivalry that has now been decided by a touchdowns or less in 12 of the past 14 years.
"We knew they were going to give us all they had and they're a great team," Walker said. "They came out to play and we were just lucky enough to make the last play."50 comments on this story
Taylor noted there's a little more to it, though.
"This is a team that never gives up and we showed that on the field today," he said.
The Utes are now awaiting a postseason invitation. They'll likely be bowling in Las Vegas. Official announcements, however, may not be made until Dec. 5.
The Utah Utes (10-2) moved up to No. 21 in this week's Associated Press rankings and in the USA Today Coaches Poll. They're 20th in the latest Bowl Championship Series standings.