Dean Hare, AP
PULLMAN, Wash. — There’s a lengthy list of woes for the Utah Utes following a 49-37 loss at Washington State.
— At 4-7 overall, they’re officially not going bowling for the second consecutive season.
— For the first time in 23 years, the program has posted back-to-back losing campaigns.
— Their current five-game skid is the team’s longest since a six-game slide in 2002.
Saturday’s setback left the Utes in a reality as cold and biting as the conditions at Martin Stadium, where temperatures were in the mid-30s when the game kicked off.
Despite everything that didn’t work out, however, the Utes did put up a fight after a disastrous start. They trailed 21-0 with 5:56 left to play in the first quarter.
“The bottom line is we lost. We showed our character trying to battle back and doing everything we can to win, but ultimately we lost, and it’s going to be a heartbreaker,” said junior tight end Jake Murphy, who expressed sorrow for the seniors not being able to play in a bowl game.
Senior linebacker Trevor Reilly said he felt sorry for the fans and alumni more than anything.
Washington State scored on the game’s opening possession by driving 73 yards on 10 plays. The Cougars capped things off with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Connor Halliday to Dom Williams. Andrew Furney added the PAT to make it 7-0.
The lead tripled over the next 5:02 when Utah quarterback Adam Schulz had two interceptions returned for scores. Damante Horton and Casey Locker recorded pick-sixes of 22- and 39-yards, respectively, as the Cougars pulled away. Lost in the shuffle was a defensive stand by Utah that ended a Washington State drive on the 19-yard line.
Down 21-0, the Utes rallied back into contention with two quick touchdowns over the first and second quarters. Running back Kelvin York accounted for both of them, crossing the goal line on runs of 14 and 2 yards. Andy Phillips followed with the extra points, the second one closing the gap to 21-14 with 13:24 remaining in the half.
“This team has had fight the whole season, man,” said Utah wide receiver Dres Anderson. “That’s been the story of our season — just fight, fight. But we haven’t been able to finish, so that hurt us.”
The Utes were unable to maintain the momentum as the Cougars outscored them 12-6 over the balance of the second quarter.
Washington State maintained its lead thanks to a 27-yard field goal by Furney and a 9-yard touchdown throw from Halliday to Marcus Mason. The PAT was blocked, leaving the score 30-14. Utah then fired back with a 3-yard scoring strike from Schulz to Anderson. The ensuing extra-point attempt failed. The Cougars managed to add a 52-yard field goal by Furney as time expired to take a 33-20 lead at halftime.
After Phillips (34 yards) and Furney (28 yards) exchanged field goals early in the third quarter, the Utes made the first of two second-half runs on the Cougars — pulling within six points both times. They made it 36-30 with 6:58 to go in the third when Schulz and Jake Murphy teamed on an 11-yard touchdown pass before Phillips followed with the PAT.
The duo also connected on a 64-yard scoring strike early in the fourth that led to Utah closing the gap to 43-37.
Both threats to Washington State’s lead, though, were thwarted by Halliday. He fired touchdown passes in response to both Utah scores — an 8-yarder to Vince Mayle in the third and a 71-yard connection to Williams in the fourth.
“Their skill on offense absolutely throttled our skill on defense. Their receivers and quarterback dominated our pass coverage,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “That was the real difference in the game. That was the biggest difference. Their quarterback and receivers did a great job and threw for a ton of yards.”
Washington State finished with 578 yards of total offense, the most allowed by the Utes this season. Halliday completed 39-of-62 passes for 488 yards and four touchdowns.
The win made the Cougars (6-5, 4-4) bowl eligible for the first time since 2003.
“It feels good. I’m proud of our guys and how they played,” said Washington State coach Mike Leach. “It’s all a byproduct of everyone making the most of their individual plays.”
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