Utah Utes football: Sun shines on Utes in comeback overtime win over Georgia Tech

Published: Saturday, Dec. 31 2011 10:00 p.m. MST

Utah running back John White slips an attempted tackle by Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu in the Sun Bowl game Saturday at El Paso, Texas.

Associated Press

EL PASO, Texas — Utah left the 78th annual Sun Bowl beaming.

John White IV's 8-yard touchdown run in overtime lifted the Utes to a dramatic 30-27 victory over Georgia Tech. White, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and wide receiver DeVonte Christopher were named Most Valuable Players.

"I was going to the house," White said after the decisive third-down play. "They said they were going to give me the ball and I just took it to the house. That's all I needed to do."

White wound up having quite a day. He finished with 115 yards while breaking three school records along the way — setting single-season marks for rushing yards (1,519), carries (318) and rushing touchdowns (15).

"Man, it feels great," White said. "I owe it to everyone, though. It's not just me."

Indeed. Several others stepped up as the Utes rallied from a 14-point deficit in the final 6:50 of regulation. The rally began with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Jon Hays to Kendrick Moeai on fourth-and-goal.

Coleman Petersen added the extra point as Utah closed the gap to 24-17.

It stayed that way until then three minutes remained. That's when Griff McNabb returned a punt 31 yards to put the Utes on the Georgia Tech 24.

"As soon as I caught it, I saw the wall. I mean Star could have gotten that many yards," McNabb said. "He probably would have scored, but it wasn't just me — it was the whole team."

The contributions continued — and in dramatic fashion.

On fourth-and-goal from the 14, Hays teamed with Christopher on a scoring strike that forced overtime.

"When you're in those type of situations, playmakers have got to show up," Christopher said while noting that coaches told the players that all week. "Luckily it was me. I had the opportunity and I was able to do that."

After tying the game, the Utes dodged a late scare when Georgia Tech missed a 48-yard goal as time expired.

In overtime, Justin Moore made a 34-yard field goal for the Yellow Jackets before the Utes countered with White's game-winning touchdown. He was mobbed by his teammates in the end zone.

"I'm relieved. That's all I can feel right now," ssenior captain Tony Bergstrom said as head coach Kyle Whittingham accepted the Sun Bowl championship trophy. "So much tension was building up the whole time, now it's just relief that it happened. I'm excited but ... I can breathe now. I can breathe for a second."

The thrilling finish capped a season of ups and downs for the Utes. They finished their inaugural season as a Pac-12 team with an 8-5 record — winning five of their final six games.

"We came on strong the second half of the season and this is just icing on the cake," Lotulelei said during the postgame celebration on the field.

Utah is now 7-1 in bowl games under Whittingham and winners of nine of its past 10 postseason outings overall.

"It's awesome," said safety Brian Blechen. "A comeback win is sometimes even better than just a blowout. This feels great."

It wasn't always that way, however.

A span of 28 seconds made things a bit gloomy for Utah at one point. Georgia Tech scored two touchdowns in that amount of time in the second half to break a 10-10 tie.

The Yellow Jackets pulled ahead on a 31-yard scoring strike from Tevin Washington to Stephen Hill with 4:43 left to play in the third quarter. Moments later, a 17-10 lead swelled to 14 points when linebacker Quayshawn Nealy intercepted Hays and returned it 74 yards for a score.

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