Utah Utes, BYU football: Utes edge Cougars, 24-21 in wild encounter

Published: Sunday, Sept. 16 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah fans storm the field and hoist Utah Utes quarterback Jon Hays (9) after the Utes beat BYU in Salt Lake City Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. in Salt Lake City Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Rice-Eccles Stadium almost proved to be a home-field disadvantage for the Utah Utes in Saturday's 24-21 victory over BYU.

An unsportsmanlike penalty for celebrating fans rushing the field prematurely provided a wild finish to the latest chapter of the Rivalry Game. It allowed BYU to attempt a game-tying field goal as time expired. Riley Stephenson's 36-yard field goal hit the left upright, however, putting an end to a game that ended right around midnight.

The miss capped a crazy conclusion that gave BYU three opportunities to win or tie the game in the closing moments. A 47-yard pass from Riley Nelson to Cody Hoffman moved the Cougars into scoring position at the Utah 34 with 10 seconds remaining. Nelson then spiked the ball to stop the clock. A pass intended for J.D.Falslev was incomplete.

That’s when things really got nutty.

When a 51-yard field goal attempt by Justin Sorensen was blocked by Utah's Star Lotulelei, the Utes were cited for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when fans stormed the field and interfered with Falslev after he recovered the ball. It gave the Cougars another chance and a closer one at that.

The ensuing opportunity — after the ball was moved to the Utah 19 — ended with the carom off the upright.

“I can’t describe that ending. That’s something I’ll remember when I’m 85 and with Alzheimers,” said Utah quarterback Jon Hays. “That was the craziest finish I’ve ever been a part of and probably one of the craziest I’ve ever seen. I’m happy and proud of this team.”

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham had similar thoughts.

“Where do I begin? We should be 4-1 because we won this game three times. I couldn’t be more proud of our team tonight,” he said. “We were tough, resilient and bounced back from a tough loss last week and played with grit and determination.”

The final Salt Lake City meeting between the rivals until 2016 will certainly be remembered, even if the play was somewhat sloppy throughout. The teams combined for seven fumbles (five by BYU) and an interception.

Nelson completed 17-of-25 passes for 206 yards. Hays, in his first start this season in place of the retired Jordan Wynn, was 18-of-27 for 196 yards.

Hoffman finished with a game-high eight receptions for 120 yards. Reggie Dunn topped Utah with six catches for 56 yards.

Neither team had a rusher with more than 56 yards.

Defensively, BYU linebacker Brandon Ogletree led all tacklers with 12 stops. Defensive backs Reggie Topps and Tyron Morris-Edwards each had eight for Utah.

The Cougars, though, lost the turnover battle by a 2-0 margin and it proved to be costly.

“Our team didn’t play clean enough football today to win the game,” said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. “I really liked their heart, how they fought back, how they played until the last second and gave us a great chance right until the very last play. But (we made) too many mistakes from the beginning of the game through (the end) to have a clean enough victory and Utah capitalized on them to their credit.”

A pair of BYU miscues led to 10 Utah points and broke a 7-7 tie in the third quarter. The first turnover — an interception of Nelson by cornerback Ryan Lacy — led to a go-ahead 48-yard field goal Coleman Petersen.

The separation continued on the Cougars' next drive when Nelson wasn't prepared for a shotgun snap. Utah defensive back Moe Lee scooped up the ball and ran 47 yards for a touchdown.

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