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Slow start, injuries doom Utes in loss to Colorado

Published: Friday, Nov. 25 2011 9:33 p.m. MST

Utah Utes kicker Coleman Petersen (95) misses the game ending field goal that would have tied Colorado in Salt Lake City  Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. Colorado won 17-14. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Utah Utes kicker Coleman Petersen (95) misses the game ending field goal that would have tied Colorado in Salt Lake City Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. Colorado won 17-14. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Turns out, it was a very bleak Black Friday up on the hill.

Utah's 17-14 loss to Colorado at Rice-Eccles Stadium proved to be a costly affair, with the Utes feeling blue about what could have been. They left more disappointed than the next shopper in line when a supply of advertised doorbusters is exhausted.

The surprising setback cost Utah (7-5, 4-5) a winning conference record in its inaugural season in the Pac-12, along with a possible berth in the league's championship game. It also spoiled "Senior Night" and the Utes' home finale.

Adding to the pain was losing to a Colorado team that had dropped 23 consecutive road games, a skid dating back to Oct. 27, 2007. Injuries to three starters — right guard Sam Brenner (neck), running back John White IV (ankle) and defensive end Joe Kruger (ankle) — also added to the disappointing end of Utah's four-game win streak.

Colorado Buffaloes running back Rodney Stewart (5) gets tackled by Utah Utes defensive lineman Tevita Finau (97) during the first half of the Utah vs. Colorado football game at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Colorado Buffaloes running back Rodney Stewart (5) gets tackled by Utah Utes defensive lineman Tevita Finau (97) during the first half of the Utah vs. Colorado football game at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

White's injury prevented him from breaking the school's single-season rushing record before the home crowd. He wound up with 28 yards on 10 carries, surpassing Dameon Hunter for No. 2 on the list but 103 shy of Carl Monroe's 1982 mark of 1,507.

The overriding heartache, though, proved to be missed opportunities — in all facets of the game.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledged a lot of issues came into play.

"But all that being said we still had a chance there at the end and we just couldn't find a way to get it done," he noted.

A 48-yard field-goal attempt by kicker Coleman Petersen, the Pac-12's reigning Special Teams Player of the Week, was wide right with two seconds remaining — sealing the outcome.

Utah Utes quarterback Jon Hays (9) gets tackled by Colorado Buffaloes linebacker Josh Hartigan (17) during the first half of the Utah vs. Colorado football game at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Utah Utes quarterback Jon Hays (9) gets tackled by Colorado Buffaloes linebacker Josh Hartigan (17) during the first half of the Utah vs. Colorado football game at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

After climbing back into contention with consecutive touchdown drives in the third quarter, Utah's three fourth-quarter possessions ended with two uncharacteristic misses by Petersen and a fumble by running back Tauni Vakapuna.

Colorado, meanwhile, was forced to punt twice down the stretch and turned the ball over when Utah cornerback Reggie Topps picked off a pass early in the fourth quarter. The Utes, however, were unable to convert when Petersen was wide right on a 26-yard field goal attempt with 8:55 left in the game.

"That's football," Whittingham said. "You just come out and sometimes things go your way and sometimes they don't."

It didn't take long for the storylines to develop in this one.

Utah got off to an extremely unproductive start. Colorado opened the game by driving 80 yards on 12 plays to take a 7-0 advantage with 9:08 remaining in the first quarter. A 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Tyler Hansen and a PAT from Will Oliver accounted for the scores.

Utah Utes wide receiver DeVonte Christopher (10) runs in as Utah Utes wide receiver Luke Matthews (11) catches a punt during the first half of the Utah vs. Colorado football game at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Utah Utes wide receiver DeVonte Christopher (10) runs in as Utah Utes wide receiver Luke Matthews (11) catches a punt during the first half of the Utah vs. Colorado football game at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Things could have gotten worse. After forcing the Utes to punt on their first possession, the Buffaloes marched downfield once again. On a 29-yard pass play from Hansen to Toney Clemons, Utah avoided giving up a touchdown when safety Brian Blechen forced a fumble on the 4-yard line and the ball rolled out of bounds for a touchback.

Colorado's lead swelled to 10-0 when Oliver made a 23-yard field goal with 7:09 left in the second quarter. The Buffaloes, at the time, held significant statistical edges — topping the Utes in yardage (234-17), first downs (12-0) and time of possession (18:07-4:44).

Utah drew a round of applause from the stunned crowd when White gave the Utes their initial first down on a 4-yard run with 2:56 remaining in the half. They had a chance to score earlier in the quarter, following a 29-yard punt return by Griff McNabb, but a 42-yard kick by Petersen was wide left.

Utah's Greg Bird stretches before the start of the Utah vs. Colorado football game at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Utah's Greg Bird stretches before the start of the Utah vs. Colorado football game at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Trailing 10-0 at the break and still without a single first down, Utah opened the second half with an 11-play, 68-yard scoring drive. Despite losing Brenner and White along the way, the Utes converted on third down twice and eventually crossed the goal line on a 3-yard run by Vakapuna.

Colorado responded to the challenge of having its lead cut to 10-7 by scoring a touchdown on its first drive of the half. A 1-yard toss from Hansen to Evan Harrington capped another sustained series by the Buffaloes, who covered 82 yards on 11 plays.

Utah quickly retaliated, though, answering with a 6-yard scoring strike from quarterback Jon Hays to fullback Shawn Asiata less than four minutes later.

It wound up capping all scoring in the first meeting between the teams since 1962.

"Our defense played great. Utah had only two drives that hurt us," said Colorado coach Jon Embree, who completed his first season at the helm of the Buffaloes with a 3-10 (2-7 in Pac-12 play) record. "We did a good job bringing pressure and containing, finally, this week."

Utah Utes wide receiver Griff McNabb (16) gets tackled by Colorado Buffaloes linebacker Derrick Webb (1) and Colorado Buffaloes offensive linesman Kaiwi Crabb (54) during the first half of the Utah vs. Colorado football game at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Utah Utes wide receiver Griff McNabb (16) gets tackled by Colorado Buffaloes linebacker Derrick Webb (1) and Colorado Buffaloes offensive linesman Kaiwi Crabb (54) during the first half of the Utah vs. Colorado football game at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Even with a bowl bid assured, Utah left the field hurting. Petersen had his hands on his face and shed a couple of tears during the traditional signing of the school fight song at game's end. Last Saturday, the junior nailed the game-winner in overtime on a snowy field at Washington State.

"He's been fairly steady all season long. He's one of the top kickers in the Pac-12 and it was a blessing to us to find him and have him perform like he did throughout the course of most of the season," Whittingham said. "... He would be the first to admit or tell you that tonight he's disappointed with his performance, but he's been a big positive for us in a lot of ball games."

Utah will learn its bowl destination on Sunday, Dec. 4. A team meeting is scheduled for Monday.

"It was a rough loss," said senior linebacker Chaz Walker. "But we'll bounce back, get ready for this bowl game and get our bowl win streak back on track."

Utah Utes linebacker Chaz Walker (32) tackles Colorado Buffaloes wide receiver Paul Richardson (6) during the first half of the Utah vs. Colorado football game at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Utah Utes linebacker Chaz Walker (32) tackles Colorado Buffaloes wide receiver Paul Richardson (6) during the first half of the Utah vs. Colorado football game at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

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UCLA wins South Division

Utah's 17-14 loss to Colorado Friday proved to be good news for the UCLA Bruins. Regardless of what happens in Friday's late game between Arizona State and California, as well as Saturday's game between UCLA and USC, they'll represent the South Division in next Friday's inaugural Pac-12 Championship at North Division champion Oregon or Stanford.

The Bruins advance with a head-to-head win over ASU on Nov. 5 and because USC is ineligible to participate because of NCAA sanctions.UCLA wins South Division

Utah's 17-14 loss to Colorado Friday proved to be good news for the UCLA Bruins. Regardless of what happens in Friday's late game between Arizona State and California, as well as Saturday's game between UCLA and USC, they'll represent the South Division in next Friday's inaugural Pac-12 Championship at North Division champion Oregon or Stanford.

Utah Utes wide receiver Griff McNabb (16) gets tackled by Colorado Buffaloes linebacker Derrick Webb (1) during the first half of the Utah vs. Colorado football game at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Utah Utes wide receiver Griff McNabb (16) gets tackled by Colorado Buffaloes linebacker Derrick Webb (1) during the first half of the Utah vs. Colorado football game at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

The Bruins advance with a head-to-head win over ASU on Nov. 5 and because USC is ineligible to participate because of NCAA sanctions.

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