To get the interception was nice, but it sealed the game, which felt better. —Utah linebacker Trevor Reilly
SALT LAKE CITY — It was only fitting that the defense — specifically the leader of the defense, Trevor Reilly — came up with the clinching play for Utah in Saturday’s 24-17 victory over Colorado.
The Ute defense came up with big plays all day in the season-ending win, capped by Reilly’s interception, which was only the third of the season for the Utes and their first since the fifth game of the season back in early October.
“To get the interception was nice, but it sealed the game, which felt better,’’ said Reilly, who celebrated by flinging the ball about 20 rows into the south end zone seats. “The defense played great in the first half and gave up 17 in the second half, but we are happy we won.’’
Besides the big interception, Reilly led the defense with 14 tackles, mostly from the middle linebacker spot, which he hadn’t played much this year after mostly lining up at defensive end and outside linebacker.
“Credit (defensive coordinator) Kalani Sitake for that,’’ he said. “I know the defense inside and out after playing in it for five years.’’
In what was Reilly’s last game as a Ute, several other seniors on the defense also came up with big plays.
Defensive tackle LT Tuipulotu recovered two fumbles and had a pair of solo tackles, while senior defensive tackle Tenny Palepoi had eight tackles, a sack and a forced fumble on the second play of the game, which set up Utah’s first touchdown.
“It was a hard season to go through, but to win on this last game, it was great,’’ said senior defensive back Mike Honeycutt.
Honeycutt, the Utes' starting nickel back, was happy for Reilly to have a big game in his last game.
“I love that kid. He’s my brother and to see him make that interception couldn’t make me any happier,’’ he said.
Coach Kyle Whittingham said he would rather not have his players throwing balls into the stands, but said, “I guess we can live with that.’’
He was thrilled with Reilly’s overall performance in his final Ute game.
“He’s been making plays for us for four years now,’’ said Whittingham. “I was happy to see him get that interception to put the game away.’’
On the opening series of the game, the Utes recovered a fumble on a sack by Palepoi. Later in the quarter, Tuipulotu picked up a fumble caused by Hunter Dimick and rumbled 19 yards to the 6-yard line, setting up Utah’s second touchdown.
“To be in position to get the ball off the fumble was a great feeling,’’ said Tuipulotu.
Late in the first half after an Adam Schulz interception, the Buffs had first-and-goal at the 6-yard line, but couldn’t get on the scoreboard.
After three plays moved the ball to the 1-yard line, the Buffs went for it, only to have Reilly break through and drop Tony Jones for a 4-yard loss.
Later in the third quarter when Colorado was threatening to cut Utah's lead to a touchdown, the Ute defense came up big again and held at the 1-yard line, forcing the Buffs to settle for a 19-yard field goal, keeping the lead at 21-10.